It’s very difficult to look for a film that will tick all of one’s expectations. Judging by a trailer alone would be sketchy and irresponsible, especially now that films are being marketed as “thoughtful and delectable” but end up being plain disappointing. It’s like looking for a decent place to eat at on a Saturday evening, or an afternoon out with friends or family. Bombarded with so many options that appeal to the senses, notwithstanding the few exceptions that want to shock and overwhelm, the viewer is usually left dumbfounded or angry over the end of a dissatisfying film. Ironically, the director of the first Iron Man concocts the perfect solution to the films that have made the past summer dizzying and polarizing, with his latest effort, Chef.
The casual viewer may not know who Jon Favreau is, but his face might be familiar when you see him. It’s similar with Chef; written and directed by the guy himself, it’ll feel familiar at first, but it digresses from that.
As the titular character Chef Carl Casper, Favreau introduces the audiences to a man who is passionate when it comes to his job, but lacks the guts to fully commit to his estranged family. Inez, his ex-wife played by Sofia Vergara, is egging him on to spend more time with his son, Percy, but the demands of the restaurant industry in Los Angeles are proving too much for the big guy. When the infamous critic Ramsay Michel is to review the restaurant, Casper’s stress levels are through the roof. Then Percy, introduces him to Twitter, which he uses to get back at Michel, with disastrous consequences.
The title can be a boring misnomer; as the film progresses, it isn’t just about Carl Casper and his ‘problems.’ As a whole, Favreau’s seventh directed film is miles better than most of his works like Zathura or Cowboys & Aliens. By emphasizing the passion and care Chef Casper has for his job, the audience can sympathize with the chef’s plight, a move that is showcased very early on. After some disheartening events, Chef Carl Casper is thrown into an epiphany with the help from Inez and Percy.
One of the most interesting themes the film explores is the relationship between the high-end restaurants and food trucks that are quickly sprouting wherever one looks. The film also explores the seemingly dimming future of the restaurant business and the sudden boom of the food truck industry. To Chef Casper, the latter proves too menial, but the story Jon Favreau has written is so organic and well-written that the parallels between a man rising up from the ashes and a chef coming back to his roots and creativity is excellent and refreshing. The journey Carl Casper takes is extensive, but not tedious.
Fortunately, Chef Carl Casper has the perfect team to back him up on his reinvention: an ensemble cast aids Favreau in making Chef a feel-good movie. As his sidekicks in the kitchen, Martin and Tony are the perfect characters to provide comic relief to the otherwise tense Carl. John Leguizamo of Ice Age fame embodies his character, Martin, with ease and fun, while Emmy winner Bobby Cannavale’s Tony is the perfect opposite of Martin in terms of their chemistry and banter onscreen.
The two women in Carl’s life have strong presences and magnetism whenever they are on screen. Scarlett Johansson, in a small role, is very likeable and infectious in the way she performs as the restaurant hostess, Molly, who maintains a very close relationship with Chef Carl. Vergara, on the other hand, commands the screen with her earnest portrayal of Carl’s wife; she isn’t domineering because she genuinely wants what’s best for her son and Carl.
Surprisingly, the biggest breakout from the film, aside from the story, is Emjay Anthony, who plays Percy Casper. Precocious and intelligent, Percy helps make the film a better one because of Emjay Anthony’s acting abilities; a good thing too, as the film examines the relationship between the titular chef and his son. Possibly one of the most heartfelt scenes in the film is when Chef Carl teaches his son about cooking and the passion that drives it.
The film also makes the subject matter relevant with its exploration of social media and the implications it has on the food industry. The story flows naturally with the mentality that social media has good and bad effects, noting the argument of age gaps between adults and the kids today who are skilled in technology. Casper’s son, Percy, gets a bigger role near the climax because of his knowledge of the subject, which points out that social media really fuels grassroots ventures with Twitter and Vine.
Aside from a compelling cast and a witty script, the soundtrack helps enhance the food shots that people are praising. With influences from jazz, soul, and funk, the film incorporates themes of joy, family, and the spice of life with fresh music that is sure to make heads bop in theaters.
Chef could have been just another indie film that would likely pass the radar, but it transcended that stereotype by becoming its own, much like “El Jefe” himself, Carl Casper. The characters are genuine and the dialogue is never pretentious—nor does it try too hard. The film is organic and natural, a rarity in today’s movie market. Jon Favreau whips up a delight, something to be relished on the first try and loved on the next few viewings.