Jon Favreau’s ode to food, Chef, was a delightfully fun (and simple) film that asks us whether we’re critics or participants, tearing down or building up, full of bitterness or full of joy. The film, which Favreau produced, directed, wrote, and starred in, boasts a cast of stellar talent like Dustin Hoffman, John Leguizamo, Robert Downey, Jr., Sofia Vergara, Oliver Platt, and Scarlett Johansson. But in the scenes that matter the most, this is Favreau’s love affair, and his passion bursts off of the screen.
Available now on Blu-ray, DVD, and VOD, Chef follows the fall and eventual rise of Chef Carl Casper (Favreau), who refuses to bend to his restaurant owner’s (Hoffman) whims and implodes. His implosion includes an expletive-laden rant at the critic Ramsey Michel (Platt), who merely proposes that Casper’s creativity has been dulled by his desire to please others. In a scene easily transposed to include an actor/director and a movie critic, Casper screams that Michel’s casual barbs hurt him, that he (Casper) cares about his creations, and that Michel has no idea how much work or effort has gone into what he’s done. This is one of the messages of the film: if we’re going to criticize, we should be prepared to walk a mile in the creator’s shoes.
But the film isn’t just about art versus criticism. It’s also about Casper reconnecting with what he loves via a food truck that he and his young son, Percy (Emjay Anthony), refurbish, with the help of Casper’s sous chef, Martin (Leguizamo). Their cross-country trip meanders, like the camera over the food creations that Casper labors over, mixed in with the technologically savant Percy’s Tweets about the food truck and where they’ll be on their ride from Miami to California. It’s this, the subtle blend of new-school technology and old-school food, that makes Chef’s story nuanced, but it really is Favreau who makes it delightful.
I’m no foodie – give me something good to eat and I’ll order the same thing again and again – but this was a quiet, beautiful movie. Casper and Percy reconnect because they work together, not because Casper lavishes his estranged son with gifts or ‘big ticket’ experiences. Casper and his ex-wife (Vergara) find reconciliation because he’s able to swallow his pride; Casper succeeds because his friends won’t abandon him as he reconnects with his dream. None of this is preachy; in fact, Favreau allows the audience to put many of these pieces together, for ourselves. Still, it’s a modern-day parable, and one that allows us to appreciate the journey as much as we appreciate the end.