Just as the savory meals that the titular Chef creates over the course of the film evolves, so too will your views of Chef Carl Casper.
Jon Favreau directs, writes, and stars in his latest film, in which a reputable cook must rediscover what it is he loves about his craft while attempting to maintain a meaningful presence in his son’s life.
Casper (Favreau) believes he is at his prime as a Chef at a prestigious LA restaurant at a time when nothing else in his life is going quite right. But when a reputable food critic brings him crashing back to reality, it becomes quickly apparent that Chef is going to be one of those common Hollywood “finding yourself” stories of old.
But Favreau knows what we love, and we love food, so for better or for worse, we don’t mind the clichéd themes.
It becomes quickly apparent that while the most important relationship in Casper’s life – at least in the film’s beginning and middle act – is between him and his food, the one that the audience is most invested in is the frail connection he has with his son, Percy (Anthony), who spends most of his time with Casper’s ex-wife (Vergara). Percy yearns for meaningful moments with his father aside from the obligatory fun days at theme parks and the movies, but no matter how hard he tries, he always comes second to Casper’s cooking. In fact, it’s hard to root for Casper at the start of the film and how blind he is to Percy’s loneliness. Sometimes we think Percy is smarter than the adults he is surrounded by.
It isn’t until Casper returns to his roots in Miami, where he first fell in love with the delicious possibilities of food, that we begin to root for Casper as he finally sees what his life can be when everything is cooking just right.
Chef does a wonderful job of illustrating how we sometimes focus a bit much on the small things in life, only to utilize them for the betterment of those around us. In a similar way, the movie shows – with the evolution of the relationships in the film – how fixing the broken parts of our lives must start with fixing ourselves first.
One of the strong points of the film is its strong performances by a powerful ensemble of actors. After recently appearing in cameos in his Iron Man movies as well as The Wolf of Wall Street, Favreau turns in easily his most energetic performance yet as a flawed cook and family man. There is nothing but delight at a certain point not far into the film in which he completely loses his mind to the delight of the Internet.
The strong Sofia Vergara (Modern Family) turns in a fantastic performance as Casper’s ex-wife, as does the criminally underrated John Leguizamo (Ice Age, Moulin Rouge), who plays Casper’s best friend, Martin. The young Emjay Anthony is excellent as Percy; we feel his sadness when his dad rejects his pleas to come see his work and are elated at his joy later in the movie as he tries to learn his Dad’s methods. The always reliable Dustin Hoffman and Scarlett Johansson have great scenes, and a certain Marvel hero continues his scene-stealing ways in a cameo that’s one of the highlights of Chef. All in all, the film will serve up many “Hey, I know that actor!” remarks in the viewer and to no disappointment.
Chef is funny, too. Favreau’s talents at writing witty one-liners are clearly on display and he and Leguizamo excel at delivering them. Once the movie is in full roadtrip mode, it’s hilarious to see how Percy attempts to assimilate himself not only into the cooking world that Casper and Martin live in, but in their adult culture as well.
And, oh the food. Has there ever been a more dire need for good cinematography in a movie than in one calling for cooking scenes that’ll make you hungry even if you grabbed dinner before the movie? Slight exaggeration, but no matter, because what you see on screen in frying pans, on cutting boards, on silver platters – along with excellent sound editing – absolutely makes you realize why Casper loves his hobby so much.
Chef’s bare weakness is in its pacing, and in its rushing of the movie’s payoff and the character that Casper evolves into. The movie runs slightly under two hours, but it easily feels like 140 minutes, mostly due to the fact that the roadtrip portion of the movie can almost be its own film. You definitely see the growth of our Chef over the course of the journey, but there is almost nothing to show for it in a six months later
epilogue that feels like six seconds. We see fleeting glimpses at the person Casper has become, but we aren’t left completely satisfied with the end of his development. You are able to see the changes made to the lives around Casper as he changed himself, but in an all too brief ending.
In a Nutshell
At its core, Chef is a hilarious feel-good movie about realizing what we truly need to make ourselves happy. Favreau frontlines a bevy of strong performances and wit for the movie’s meat and veggies, but the desert leaves something to be desired.
8 / 10
Chef is rated R for language, including some suggestive references
Starring: Jon Favreau, Sofia Vergara, and John Leguizamo
Directed by Jon Favreau