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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 11.11%
Just Average: 11.11%
Pretty Crappy38.89%
Sucks: 0%

2 reviews, 6 user ratings

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by Jay Seaver

"Sweet, tangy, and filling."
5 stars

Jon Favreau's "Chef" has a line in the credits about being based on actual events, and I kind of suspect that those events may involve "fans" putting a lot of personal invective into their assessments of "Iron Man 2" and "Cowboys & Aliens" as a real-life chef hitting the road to get back to basics. If that's the case, then this movie is a case of a good thing coming out of a bad situation, as it allows Favreau to put a great deal of himself into a movie that is not necessarily autobiographical.

He writes, directs, and plays Carl Casper, a chef at a popular L.A. restaurant who has been cooking the same menu for five years. On the night a major critic (Oliver Platt) is due to visit, he wants to present a new, special menu, but backs down under pressure from the owner (Dustin Hoffman). The review is a disaster, Carl's first encounters with social media afterward make it worse, and soon he's out of work and tagging along when his ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) takes a business trip to Miami, looking after their son Percy (Emjay Anthony). It may be a blessing in disguise, though - Carl and Percy haven't spent that much time together, and an old friend has a food truck that Carl could refurbish to re-establish himself.

Favreau takes a little time getting there, letting the audience get a look at Carl, Percy, and the world they live in before each time he upends things. He sometimes seems to be filling that world with big names just because he can, although every movie star there for little more than a cameo delivers something good, whether it be perfect fits like Bobby Cannavale and Dustin Hoffman, Scarlett Johansson turning in a small gem of a performance (she really is on a roll right now), or John Leguizamo sticking around longer than expected and turning line chef Martin into the glue that hold the movie together. Sofia Vergara brings some of her broad persona to Inez, but doesn't overwhelm the character. Using a cast of movie stars in this way - letting the audience's familiarity carry some weight and then getting nuance when he might otherwise be establishing the broad outline of the characters - is an underrated aspect of Favreau's career as a director; it can look like he's just gotten the studio to sign checks to put a cast on autopilot, but he's using it to build a well-populated environment and get to its details quickly where others might use this sort of cast as a substitute for doing so.

This time, he drops himself into the middle of that environment, and Carl Casper turns into the best part he's ever had. While the audience may be taken aback by how overtly emotional Carl is - he rages, he trembles, he cries - Favreau stops short of it seeming exaggerated either in terms of how he plays the part or in terms of Carl being a "genius and volatility go hand in hand" stereotype. There's some of that, but it comes through as investment in how he can affect people with food and perhaps a much more nervous awareness that he can similarly affect his son by doing anything. It's a beautifully open performance, complemented by how Emjay Anthony can sometimes seem less than expressive as Percy, a twenty-first century kid who diverts his emotions into his phone. He absolutely nails the kid not sure why his father isn't there more, though, including the cheer when Carl is including him. Some of the best scenes in the movie come as Carl tries to teach Percy his craft, with Favreau perfectly showing how nervous Carl is that Percy won't care for food the way he does and Anthony quietly getting across that it's a big deal to Percy too.

It's great that the father & son material is so great, because otherwise one might be tempted to spend way too much time looking for meta-commentary where there perhaps isn't any - does it mean something that Favreau's Iron Man star Robert Downey Jr. is playing someone who both boosts and threatens Carl? If so, why is there no part for Vince Vaughn? Which focus-grouping producer is Hoffman playing? Even without trying to map specific items from Carl Cooper's story to Jon Favreau's, it's still a great movie about being creative and in the entertainment industry. I hope Favreau doesn't see all critics/bloggers as ignorant haters who mostly operate on the level of personal insults, but it's certainly something that today's artists must deal with whatever the media; it's probably also telling that while he ultimately doesn't dismiss social networks the way many do, the film does ultimately portray them as best used as a promotional tool. It is great to see the film play up how creative people are driven by their audience as opposed to just having something to get out and who cares about the rest of the world.

Favreau also does a bunch of neat things in how he presents the movie. Take how he compresses the evolution of an artist into the story: Carl teaches Percy the basics of making a simple Cubano, impressing on him the importance of craft before exposing him to new influences which get incorporated into their work. He also does a nice job of demonstrating how quick editing can be used to present both distance and and avalanche of emotion, or getting the online interaction that plays an important part of the movie in. He also builds a genuinely funny movie, from the wacky bit with Downey Jr. to the way Carl, Percy, Martin bounce off each other naturally.

It's often been said that Favreau tends to work very loosely from his script even with technically complicated movies like "Iron Man", and "Chef" has a bit of that feel - not quite improvised, but relaxed, with the cast having the chance to get into their characters and play off each other. It makes for a warm, comfortable viewing experience, but not pandering at all. It's a great little movie, as clever as it is sweet.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=25876&reviewer=371
originally posted: 05/20/14 21:50:31
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 SXSW Film Festival For more in the 2014 South by Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/15/16 brian Mostly well made, appetizing, and fun, but a bit too formulaic. 4 stars
11/10/15 Bents great cast...but where's the beef? 3 stars
6/12/15 dr. lao Watch the BBC series of the same name. That Chef isn't boring as spit. 2 stars
1/31/15 Jamie a gem of a movie, understated, superb cast, phenomenal ending.You will love it! 5 stars
8/23/14 Simon A couple of scene&musings are fresh&modern, but otherwise vanilla near-hokey storytellling 3 stars
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  09-May-2014 (R)
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