Distributed by Open Road Films
Opening Release Date: May 9th 2014
Reviewed by Joshua Andre
Chef– Starring Jon Favreau, Sofia Vergara, John Leguizamo, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey Jr, Oliver Platt and Dustin Hoffman
Ever since I was younger, I have always been helping my parents in the kitchen. Whether it was stirring some meat or vegetables, mixing together a cake, chopping garlic, onions and herbs, or baking a savoury dish; my parents have always taught me the value of home cooked meals, served to the utmost quality, with a quick preparation time as well. From about 10-15 years ago, I have been cooking with my parents on numerous occasions, and as the years progressed, I gained quite a bit of a repertoire of dishes, as I continue to excel in cooking wherever I can. As a family, we have time and time again cooked together, and occasionally have seen reality TV shows like Iron Chef and Masterchef. Our family have also seen a fair amount of movies on the subject of cooking (as well as cooking documentaries and competitions), if only just to try to reverse engineer dishes and marvel at the way these culinary feats were cooked in other cultures. So I guess it’s comes as no surprise that one of my favourite films of this year is Chef (which I saw in the cinemas a few days ago); a film where the main character is a chef, and a film where I have learnt quite a lot about life.
Written, directed by, co-produced by and starring Jon Favreau, who directed Iron Man 1 and 2, and also was one of the creators behind the scenes in the NBC sci-fi action drama Revolution (now cancelled); Chef essentially is a fun film about family. As Jon employs a host of A-list Hollywood stars to join him on this feel-good, mouth-watering and inspiring food journey, I would gladly watch the 2 hour film again…and eat like no tomorrow afterwards! Releasing on May 9th 2014, and distributed by Open Road Films, what is a simple story at first, seeming to not carry around that much weight and significance, in fact has plenty of heart and soul, and is quite complex on deeper analysis- as Jon presents us with a message that can be impacting on us for a long time.
The film tells the story of brilliantly talented and sometimes egotistical chef Carl Casper (Jon Favreau), a genius in the kitchen of the restaurant in Los Angeles owned by Riva (Dustin Hoffman). Disillusioned with and frustrated by the sameness of the dishes on the successful menu, Carl longs to be able to express his creativity by cooking different dishes that he actually enjoys. When he is reviewed poorly by renowned blogger Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt), Carl confidently informs Ramsey via twitter that he will cook an entire different menu to prove to Ramsey that he is an exceptional cook. However with Riva stonewalling Carl’s creative streak, and basically saying that Carl has to cook the ‘original’ menu or leave the restaurant, Carl leaves.
An altercation and a temper tantrum later, Carl makes a fool of himself on a viral video causing him to be fired from his job, leading him to embark on a holiday with his son Percy (EmJay Anthony), and ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) to Miami. Robert Downey Jr stars as a friend of Inez (her first ex-husband) who helps Carl start up his own food truck business in Miami (by giving him the food truck for free), called El Jefe Cubanos. As the film progresses, Carl travels across the U.S. with his son and best friend Martin (John Leguizamo) and sells authentic and real Spanish and Southern American food. As this is Hollywood, we all kind of knew that Carl would be successful and happy at the end of the film, however this fact doesn’t make the movie any less poignant, relevant and enjoyable, with many lessons to be gained and learnt.
So how would I describe this movie, and what is it about the film that tugs at my heart, that I would encourage people to go and watch it? Well first of all, this is a food movie, and the film portrays cooking as fun, enjoyable, easy and accessible. As Carl, Martin and Percy serve quality food to numerous customers in high paced and frenetic environments across the United States, the gauntlet is thrown down in a sense, and we are challenged to cook like Carl. This shouldn’t cripple us with fear as we try to compare cooking styles and find that we don’t measure up, but rather should give us resolve and grit to cook quality dishes, which are most of the time healthier than takeaway food. Hopefully through films like these we can help everyone collectively lose some much needed weight, and combat health diseases as well.
While many countries in the world are obese and overweight overall, for whatever reason, I am certain that Chef will provide a renewed sense of determination for many people around the world, as we are encouraged to nourish our bodies with healthier foods than what is served outside of home. As Carl shows us joy and satisfaction that are both contagious and infectious, with the new venture that he has undertaken; the extrapolation remains, that home cooked food, no matter what it is, is ultimately tastier and more fulfilling and satisfying than any other type of food, shown through the professionalism of Carl’s cooking, and the notion that ‘If Carl can cook food like that, so can I!’. What Chef has done quite well, is reaffirm my decision to actively cook more in the kitchen, and experiment with foods and dishes that I haven’t tried for fear of the unknown, and I am sure many other people will be touched and inspired as well.
My mouth was salivating in response to the tasty food on the screen, and my stomach was rumbling numerous times throughout the film as well (it’s no use eating beforehand, as you’ll definitely eat afterward as well!). With previous films such as Julie and Julia, Ratatouille, and No Reservations all having a solid storyline as well as great acting and inspiring messages as well, and Chef smartly following in their footsteps; it is the wide array and smorgasbord of food that has played a part in piquing my interest to watch the film, being a lover of all things savoury and sweet, and having many favourite foods (as shown through the profile of myself on this site).
The cast has also acted brilliantly, another reason why this film is a winner in my opinion- with Jon Favrau shining as Carl the protagonist, and John Leguizamo perfecting the role of the loyal and caring friend. Though Scarlett Johansson wasn’t utilised that well in her role as Carl’s friend, all other characters were insightful, well-acted and inspiring. With Sofia Vergara, famous for her main starring role in the ensemble comedy TV series Modern Family, immersing herself totally in the role of Carl’s ex-wife, who’s overprotective of Percy, almost to perfection, and newcomer EmJay Anthony bound to be a future child star after this film; it is the cameo of Robert Downey Jr, playing a character similar in qualities to Tony Stark, that had me grinning and chuckling on the inside. Though only appearing in the film for about 5 minutes, every minute was comedy gold, with his snark and dry humour, and onscreen chemistry with Jon well worth his limited screen time, given that it was his character Marvin’s advice to Carl Casper that ultimately led to the success of El Jefe Cubanos.
With the locations of the film also sticking out to me, the scenery was very captivating (maybe the music score had something to do with the beauty of the cities…), and I was reminded about how much I would like to visit the U.S. for a holiday sometime soon. Yet what sets this film apart from most action and shoot-‘em-up films, and maybe puts it in the same league as some Oscar nominated and won films, is the underlying theme and message that transcends food. It’s a message that reminds us to pursue happiness in everything we do, and a challenge to undertake something that we love, so that we can truly be fulfilled in life.
Chasing after what is important and doing what you love can be highlighted effectively in the persona of Carl. Carl is a very relatable character, as the characteristic that he portrays of an inflated ego is something we all can identify with at least one time in our lives. We have all at one point or another thought we were the best at something and then failed, and I’m sure that for each one of us, the moment was an embarrassing yet humbling experience.
At the start of the film Carl was a workaholic and neglected his relationship with his son and his son’s wellbeing, yet this film brings hope and optimism, as Carl undergoes a change of heart when working on the food truck with his son- which greatly solidifies the father-son relationship and strengthens the camaraderie and friendship with Martin. And though we may not all have had an experience like Carl- having an epiphany that ultimately betters our working life and every other aspect, suddenly thrust into a role where we unequivocally succeed and maintain a sustainable and delicate work life balance; we can nevertheless still relate to Carl’s experiences, and we see that going through the ups and downs of life makes us a better person.
Certainly a film that portrays cooking as fun and enjoyable, also showing us fine acting and exquisite locations in the U.S, on the road and in the bustling city; the question is posed- ‘are we enjoying our work, our day job, and what we can do about it so that our passion lines up with our profession, if we are in fact miserable?’. The answer, as clearly shown by this confronting yet comforting film, is to pursue something you love. The means we go about it can be as drastic and out there as Carl, or more subtle and subdued. Whatever the mechanism of how we find our ideal occupation and profession, and place in life, what Chef has done that no other film this year has, is to make us think about the big issues.
Probably going to be one of my favourite films once 2014 ends, all I can do right now is to champion Jon Favreau and his team of actors and people behind the scenes, as they give us stellar performances that make the movie worth watching repeatedly (you might also want to start cooking food truck style food afterwards!). A film with a strong and edifying message, Chef came from left-field, in a good way, and is the best food film I’ve seen (closely followed by Julie and Julia)! Well worth your time and money, I’d suggest you to watch it, and be amazed at Jon’s ability to act, write, produce and direct in the same film, and do it all flawlessly!