Movie Review: Chef

By Stephen Rebello

<p>Jon Favreau directed and stars in this small movie with big heart.<br></p>

Director: Jon Favreau

Rating: R

Studio: Aldamisa Entertainment

Stars: Jon Favreau, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sofía Vergara

Chef may not be the cinematic equivalent of a five-course two-star Michelin meal, but, as an expertly presented amuse-bouche, it leaves us more than charmed and satisfied. Written, directed by and starring Jon Favreau, Chef is a sunny, likable, even enjoyably predictable movie that charts the fall and rise of culinary supernova Carl Casper, a once inventive, cutting-edge top L.A. chef. Now presiding over the staff and kitchen of a swank Brentwood neighborhood eatery owned by a bottom line–savvy businessman (Dustin Hoffman), our perfectionistic, self-obsessed hero gets warned by the brass to squelch his culinary innovations and coddle the restaurant’s rich customers by playing his “greatest hits.” With alimony payments and rent on a sketchy Venice apartment to make, Carl knuckles under only to get stunned by a slashing review from a famed critic and blogger (Oliver Platt), who thinks he’s gone stale and lazy. This sparks an ugly Twitter war that leads to Carl’s confronting the critic in a full-scale meltdown that overnight becomes a viral sensation. In disgrace, Carl skips town with his curvy ex-wife (Sofía Vergara) and estranged 10-year-old son (Emjay Anthony, in a terrific performance) to return to Miami, his original launching pad and source of inspiration. The movie morphs into a flavorful, funny road trip when the chef launches a Cuban-style food truck business with his son and his sous-chef (John Leguizamo).

A father-son tale at heart, the movie’s vibe is upbeat, rowdy and crowd-pleasing, riding on a cloud of delectable pop-up performances by Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson and Bobby Cannavale, and a Latin, reggae, meringue and salsa–inflected soundtrack. And those luscious food porn sequences (Favreau was tutored and supervised by Korean-born food truck maestro Roy Choi) ought to send audiences scrambling for the nearest restaurant, truck or takeout stand after the fadeout. Favreau burst onto the scene years ago, starring in the funky indie Swingers before spending years directing stuff like Elf, two gigantic Iron Man epics and Cowboys & Aliens. That makes it especially gratifying to watch him thumb his nose at the suits, at least temporarily, to make something small, quirky and personal. With Chef, he’s reclaimed his mojo by making a tasty, personal, small movie with a great big heart.


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