A familiar recipe, expertly prepared and served with extra zest!8/10
At an early point in Chef, the title character cooks a grilled cheese sandwich for his 10-year-old son, Percy. It's a familiar recipe bread, butter, and cheese but the way that the camera lingers on the melting cheese, and the care taken in how the food was served, made me want to reach into the screen and take a bite. If Chef were a meal, it would be comfort food. When comfort food is done right, boy oh boy does it hit the spot.
Favreau directs and stars as Carl Casper, a celebrated chef at a swanky Los Angeles restaurant, whose creativity and integrity is compromised by the restaurant's controlling owner. After a video of him losing his temper at a food critic goes viral he becomes not only unemployed, but unemployable. With his reputation in shreds, he decides to get back in touch with his roots by opening a food truck and taking it along with line cook and son - on the road, rediscovering his passion along the way.
The pairing of sumptuous shots of food preparation with Latin beats is hard to resist for most audiences, and the food shots in Chef are so luscious and evocative that you can almost smell what's cooking. The music, sensual and spicy, is perfectly matched to the food. There's a beauty and a rhythm in the food preparation scenes and the amount of them included in the film is just right, so as not to feel over indulgent.
There is also a lot of enjoyment to be had from watching the performances of the supporting cast, and perhaps this is because each of them play to their strengths: Robert Downey Jr steals the scene as Casper's ex-wife's other ex-husband who is rich, generous, and always looks like he's on the verge of doing something really crazy; Sofia Vegara plays Casper's sweet, sexy, well- meaning ex-wife, who he is still great friends with; John Leguizamo, always an interesting actor to watch, has fantastic chemistry with Favreau and the young actor who plays his son, and some of the more meandering scenes in the film are made interesting by his infectious energy; and Dustin Hoffman adds an element of compassion to a role that could have easily been reduced to a caricature. The stars featuring in the film stay firmly within their safe zone, and I couldn't help but remember what Hoffman tells Favreau early in the movie: play your hits, because no one wants to go to a Rolling Stones concert and not hear 'Satisfaction'. While this can have the potential to be boring, it bodes well for the film: we know we're in safe hands, and we're going to come out of this feeling satisfied. Special mention must be made of Emjay Anthony, who plays Favreau's son Percy with the perfect blend of maturity and innocence, and is really the emotional centre of the film.
While the film is certainly a feast for the senses, at its core it's about restoration: restoring the father-son relationship, and restoring passion. It's hard to ignore the parallels to Favreau's own career: after breaking out in the 1996 indie hit Swingers, Favreau has in recent years become a director of the mega-blockbusters: the first two Iron Man movies, and the less well-received Cowboys & Aliens. Here, he cleanses his palate as a director and returns to more down-to-earth, feel-good fare (there's even a dead-on remark about Casper's/Favreau's "dramatic weight gain". Ouch). A familiar recipe made with great ingredients, Chef will leave you feeling satisfied.