Jon Favreau's Chef, an independent film about the art of cooking, is both an analogue for his Hollywood big budget filmmaking career and an exploration of fatherhood. The director behind such films as Iron Man and Cowboys & Aliens has deliberately gone back to his Swingers roots for a simple story celebrating the creativity through food and the father/son relationship. It's a somewhat fascinating exploration of Favreau's own semi-autobiographical tale of reinvention using cooking and social media as a means to express his process as an artist.
Favreau himself stars as Chef Carl Casper, a hot shot celebrity chef with his loyal kitchen crew, who sells out after a long career of making middling fare at a trendy Los Angeles eatery. After an embarassing meltdown that goes viral, he rediscovers his passion for cooking and his family through revisiting his beginnings and embarking on a road trip (through food meccas like Miami, Austin, and New Orleans) to start his own mobile Cuban food truck. Chef indulges in Favreau's own Hollywood career as a burgeoning actor turned director with lots of promise who eventually stumbles after achieving success and stardom. Most of all this is all quite funny and on point chiefly because it comes from a place of truth.
As a whole, Chef veers, stumbles, and meanders at parts yet its very well-made sum consistently rises above the fat of its parts. The thin premise and basic story lacks any real conflict as it's stretched to nearly two hours. However, Favreau's loose but earnest scripting is padded with some seriously evocative sequences of food porn, a frustrating plot involving a powerful blogger and food critic (played by Oliver Platt), and Carl's struggles with his asshole boss (Dustin Hoffman) demanding he stick to a standard menu of favourites that never quite makes sense.
Fortunately, Favreau uses the highest quality ingredients in his all-star supporting players like Sofía Vergara, John Leguizamo, Scarlett Johansson, Bobby Cannavale, and Robert Downey, Jr. They all pull off their scenes of comedic back and forth expertly as Favreau knows how to make himself look good by surrounding himself in fine company. At its core, Chef succeeds through its father/son dynamic with Favreau and Emjay Anthony (as his son Percy), who is delightfully curious and charming as a sidekick in his use of social media. His innocence, precociousness, and love for his father are understated and amusing, grounding the greater theme of balancing career and family.
Chef is a feel good story penetrable through different points of view just as it is a satisfyingly filling meal of personal filmmaking and home cooking, being made from a well-known, predictable recipe/script and the finest ingredients/cast. The film is cinematic comfort food wrapped around a very pleasing family meal. It's an expression of how chefs/artists pour themselves into their work and explicitly so for other people despite sometimes being their own audience.
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