It was time for a movie review and I had two options for viewing. Since it was Sunday and we’d be going together, I told my husband he’d have to pick the flick. He agreed and then watched the trailers for both films. We’re can be pretty damn diplomatic when we want to be, which is great—efficient. In all honesty, I was prepared to have him choose the action movie. I was happily surprised when he announced that he thought Chef the better option. Excited with his decision, I grabbed my keys and we were off.
We meet Chef Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) as he prepares for his evening of work at what appears to be a well-respected Los Angeles establishment. He’s nimbly chopping up vegetables and preparing his kitchen for a culinary overhaul. Carl’s excited because he loves what he does and he feels invigorated at the thought of updating his menu. He’s especially delighted because he’s planning this around the visit of one very important guest, food blogger, Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt).
Carl might be excited for this culinary overhaul, but Riva (Dustin Hoffman), the owner of the restaurant, doesn’t agree. Riva wants to keep things like they’ve always been. He figures if things aren’t broke then nobody should fix them. He also makes it clear that--since he’s the owner--what he says goes, and so Casper prepares the same menu he’s been working with for the last decade.
Unfortunately, our favorite food critic, rips apart Carl’s apparent lack of creativity and innovation in a scathing review. Ramsey Michel starts off complimentary, but ends up verbally disemboweling Chef Casper online. It seems Michel is disappointed in Casper because he had been one of his favorite chefs, early in his career, and it saddens him to see Carl fade into gastronomic irrelevance. Actually, 'disappointed' would be a better word to use to describe Michel’s reaction to the unimaginative menu. This disappointment leads him to pen a review that comes off as a personal attack and which cuts Carl right to the bone.
Chef is the story of what Carl Casper does when he’s faced with a floundering career and an overwhelmingly negative--and devastatingly viral--review of his work. He’s failing at connecting with his son and he’s beginning to feel the life slip out of his existence. He knows he's got to change something, but he doesn't know where to start. Fortunately for us moviegoers, what Carl ends up doing with his bad luck, makes for a rather entertaining and endearing 114 minutes.
Jon Favreau brings us an instantly likeable and infinitely relatable leading man though his portrayal of Chef Carl Casper. Carl’s a nice guy and he’s doing his best to get through the daily grind, but he’s so focused on getting through everything that he’s forgotten to look up and really tend to his life. Carl has his flaws, but he’s aware of each and every one. Favreau’s performance is refreshingly devoid of chaffing levels of the snark and sarcasm that's often times overused in an effort to make a character relatable without becoming overtly vulnerable. Favreau creates a character that revels in his vulnerability when he realizes this altered perspective might save his career. Favreau’s performance exudes a sincerity of which I cannot get enough.
Actually, the best thing about Favreau’s portrayal of Carl Casper is his rapport with Emjay Anthony who plays Percy, Carl’s son. Anthony’s performance was understated and clever. Sofia Vergara who plays Carl’s ex wife and Percy’s Mother, is charmingly comedic as Inez.
John Leguizamo as Martin and Bobby Cannavale as Tony, make up Carl’s kitchen posse and they also provide a steady comedic cadence that keeps the mood of the movie light while the story attempts to deconstruct the perils of the daily grind. Leguizamo and Cannavale both deliver performances that are equal parts whimsical and heart-felt, both succeed in adding comedic relief alongside their reality checks.
The casting for this film was spot on. The soundtrack is insanely good and the story is engaging through to the end. Usually movies billed as “uplifting,” tend to rub me the wrong way, but not Chef. I would say the only thing I didn’t like about this film is that the ending is a touch anticlimactic. It’s not that there are too many unresolved issues lingering when the credits roll, quite the contrary. I won’t say more about the ending, I don't want to spoil it. You’ll know what I mean when you see it, if you see it.
Actually, if you’re still on the fence, do yourself a favor and just get yourself a ticket to Chef. It's summertime, it's beautiful out and you know you want to feel good about life, even if it’s only for 114 minutes. However, be aware that you should, under no circumstances, go to see this movie if you haven’t eaten. I repeat, do not go see Chef on an empty stomach. You’ll only end up torturing yourself with the myriad images of delectable food you’ll see on screen. I did, and I regretted it enough to warn you; now, go forth and head my warning.
Chef – B+
B+ = Give this one a go for sure. You will most likely enjoy it and if /when it comes on cable, you will probably watch it through to the end regardless of your starting point.