Release Date: 25th of June 2014
Running Time: 114 Minutes
Director: Jon Favreau
Starring: Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, Emjay Anthony, Sofia Vergara, Scarlett Johansson, Bobby Cannavale, Dustin Hoffman
Jon Favreau – indie darling of the late 90s – has spent much of the past ten years plying his trade as director on well crafted but creatively stifling blockbusters such as Zathura, Iron Man and Cowboys & Aliens. Now though he returns to his low-budget roots with Chef, the story of, well, a chef, who rediscovers his mojo when he opens a low-key food truck after years of working in an unimaginative but well funded restaurant. D’ye see what he did there?
After a scathing review of his food by online food critic Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt channeling the headmasterly demeanour and silly sounding name of Peter O’Toole’s Anton Ego from Ratatouille) Chef Carl Casper experiences a crisis of confidence. Deeply hurt by the criticism Carl disastrously tries to respond via social media, becoming an internet meme and walking punchline as a consequence. With the career he has neglected his son for in tatters he’s at rock bottom. It’s at this point that his super-friendly and understanding ex-wife (Vergara) and her super-friendly and understanding first husband help set him up with a food truck to reignite his passion for cooking, and maybe reconnect with his adoring son.
The film establishes Carl’s passion for cooking with a first half that lingers obsessively over his work processes and creations. If you’re into looking at food you’ll never smell, let alone taste, then this film may well dance across your palate; at times this is just a breathy voiceover away from being a Marks and Spencer’s advert. It’s food porn at it’s most hardcore, and like all porn it feels overlong and gratuitous in it’s festishisation. Similarly, Favreau seems to be obsessed with Twitter and it’s power to connect with people and promote out interests. It can all be a bit much, particularly when people’s tweets appear onscreen before flying away like a little Twitter logo.
However, as Chef starts to move away from the grub(biness) and social networking and onto the people eating and tweeting, a lovely and well observed story of a father and son reconnecting starts to emerge. Eleven year old actor Emjay Anthony is great as Carl’s son Percy, a boy devoted to, but frequently disappointed by, his Dad. It’s a brilliantly naturalistic performance with Anthony never coming across as precocious or wise beyond his years. Little moments such as the look of amused embarrassment he has when his dad starts to sing, or the way he lingers on hugging him really give his character a sense of recognisable reality.
Favreau, a big friendly bear of a man with a twinkle in his eye and an easy charm, is a wonderfully likeable screen presence. As writer, director and star Favreau’s warmth and charisma pervades almost every aspect of Chef, meaning that despite its almost evangelical depiction of Twitter and lack of any real conflict it’s still a captivating watch. Like a canape at a fancy gala, Chef is lightweight but really very tasty, a crowdpleaser if not of much nutritional value.