After helming the 2011 Summer Blockbuster Cowboys and Aliens, and directing a couple TV episodes, Jon Favreau has returned to his indie roots as the writer, director, and star of Chef. Bringing along an A-list cast including Sofia Vergara, John Leguizamo, Scarlett Johansson, Oliver Platt, Bobby Cannavale, Dustin Hoffman, and Robert Downey Jr, the story revolves around a famous chef who loses his job after getting in a fight with a food critic, and starts up a food truck in attempt to achieve creative fulfillment. The film is also a father-son relationship film, as Jon Favreau’s character attempts to bond with his son by bringing him along on a tour the food truck is going on.
This movie isn’t about a chef though. This is a movie about a frustrated filmmaker who doesn’t want to make another high-concept studio action film. That’s all fine and dandy, except that the allegory isn’t exactly subtle. The restaurant owner (studio exec) forces the chef (director) into doing the same meals that he’s always been doing, because they’re crowd-pleasers. The chef is upset by the negative critical response and quits to run his own small food truck (indie movie). The problem is that every time you notice the metaphor, you get taken out of the story. The film no longer becomes about a chef working on his family relationships, it becomes a movie about a bitter filmmaker. The film isn’t even self-aware about all of this. It seems to think it’s a lot more clever than it actually is.
Another thing that takes you out of the film is its sloppy understanding of technology. You need to have a high suspension of disbelief to not debate the validity of some of the events in the movie. It starts out with the assumption that a food critic’s review would be able to go viral. Not just viral, but super viral. Then you have to assume that a 10-year-old kid can not only teach his father how to use twitter, but start a marketing campaign for his dad’s food truck that brings in thousands of customers. It’s not damning, but it forces you to question the film.
Chef seems to have also forgotten to include a third act to the film. After the initial incident and creation of the food truck, things just go well and then the movie ends. Relationship query’s seem to evaporate overnight. Supporting characters in the first half of the film disappear without any reasoning. Everything about the ending seems too perfect and happy-go-lucky. As an audience member, it’s just unfulfilling.
All of that said, Chef is able to get by on charm. Jon Favreau obviously put in a lot of effort into learning the culinary craft. When his character speaks about food, there’s so much passion involved you can’t help but smile. The ensemble all give great performances and create dimension from seemingly one-dimensional characters. The pacing is fast so you never feel bored or trapped in the movie theatre. Make sure you eat beforehand though, because all of the food looks fantastic. 6/10.