Chefs and filmmakers are both creative professions and are similar in many aspects to one another. Getting a bad review from a food critic is almost the same as a filmmaker getting a bad review for a movie; with both involve getting derided for a profession they essentially love. It is a critique on an artist’s work that sets off a chain of events and leads the protagonist, Chef Carl (played by Jon Favreau), on a quest to rediscover his culinary mojo in Chef.
When we are first introduced to Favreau’s title character, it’s the day of a big review at his restaurant. Carl is diligently preping a special menu when he clashes with the restaurant’s owner. “Do what you do best” is the line that that puts him on the path to staying with the status quo: the restaurant’s long time and established menu. When the review comes in, Carl gets slammed for playing it safe and is described as losing the creative touch that brought him notoriety. After verbally sparring with said critic on Twitter and in person, Carl decides to lay low and travels to Florida to figure out what to do next. What he comes up with . . . making simple food that he loves, that people like to eat, and serving it up from a food truck.
You can definitely feel the passion that his character has for food and for his profession. From the focus on ingredients, to technique, to the feeling that you get when you create a dish (ie: a work of art), to the high standard that chefs have for their food . . . Favreau does a great job of telegraphing the nuance of the profession.
Though I can’t honestly say if Favreau is the one acting in all of the cooking shots, the ones you do see him in do provide credence to the role he’s playing. From constructing a grilled cheese sandwich to making a batch of pasta to developing an entirely new menu; in each of these scenes we see Favreau playing the conscientious chef, masterfully putting together dishes with zest and verve. These moments are well laid out as it shows a level of authenticity if not the passion that makes you believe his character really loves cooking.
Probably the best moments in the film are the ones that develop the relationship between Chef Carl and his son Percy. This film could have just been about a chef getting back to his culinary roots. Instead, the father/son bonding gives the film an emotional anchor and makes Carl no just a chef, but someone we can relate to as well.
While Carl is hesitant to have his son be involved with his latest endeavor; driving the truck back to LA allows him to make good on a promise to take his son Percy on a road trip and affords him the opportunity to share with his son (and the audience) his love for cooking. From refurbishing the food truck to selecting the ingredients, and cooking the food; at every step of the way Carl explains why each step in the process needs to be executed in a certain way and what it means to be a chef.
While the story of the film is entertaining, watching it I couldn’t help but feel that it was a metaphor for Favreau’s career. Just look at the parallels: Chef Carl being given an ultimatum by the owner of the restaurant mirrors Favreau leaving the studio system after Cowboys & Aliens bombed; Favreau making Chef (a smaller personal project in the vein of his first film) after a big Hollywood flop could be compared to Chef Carl starting up a food truck–cooking and serving food that he wants to on his own terms. Both stories are about artists looking to get back to their roots so to speak and find some of the magic that made them love what they do. Though I can’t be certain, the similarities are there.
Through it all Chef remains a labor of love for Favreau. He’s not doing anything that will blow you away or is flashy. There’s no fancy camera work or overuse of CGI in any of his shots. And while there are two Avengers in it (Robert Downey Jr and Scarlett Johannson); they are just friends helping a buddy out. No, Favreau is here to tell a story that he wants to tell, the way he wants to tell it. For that, I take the film at face value. With a simple story, no special acting performances, and a lot of good looking food; I was entertained. While I don’t think it’s quite on the level or as personal as his first film Swingers was, I hope it does help him to get his creative juices flowing again.
Cinematic Scene: How To Make a Grilled Cheese Sandwich
Chef is all about the title character rediscovering his culinary mojo, but no other scene in the film illustrates Chef Carl’s love for food than in this scene where he constructs a grilled cheese sandwich for his son. It’s not shot in any fancy way, but this is where you get a sense of what kind of chef Carl is.
We’ve all made a grilled cheese sandwich, but in this scene we really see the care and attentiveness that Carl puts into this simple dish. From use of ingredients, to construction of the sandwich, to seeing how he maneuvers his spatula; at each step in the process you can see the look of determination on his face to make sure what he’s serving is prepared in just the right way. He doesn’t speak hardly any words, yet his craftsmanship speaks volumes. The scene doesn’t go on for too long, but it does follow him from raw materials to a finished ooey-gooey grilled cheese sandwich . . . yum!
“Cinematic Scene” is a new element to reviews. In an effort talk about some of the more technically creative and/or emotionally charged scenes in the film I’ve decided to break off a specific section at the end of each review to discuss these noteworthy scenes. Whether it’s fancy camera work, brilliant use of special effects, or heart wrenching acting; I will pick one notable scene from the film that you should definitely pay attention to.
Chef is currently playing at Consolidated Ward 16, Consolidated Kahala, and Regal Dole Cannery 18.
3.5 out of 5 stars // rated R // 1hr 55min