*The last paragraph expresses short analysis* There is so many things I could be writing about this week. I've been seriously considering writing about the top ten episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: Enterprise or a combination of all of them. I have also been very seriously contemplating writing about five relatively unknown books that should be made into movies. Furthermore, even as I am writing this, I have been assembling a list of my favorite performances on American Idol for the next season starting in a couple months. That being said, I've getting the urge to get back to my roots and write a movie review. For better or worse, Chef is the film I settled on.
Chef - written by, directed by, and starring Jon Favreau – tells the tale of (you guessed it) a chef, a man who used to be minor celebrity, but lost some of his spark. He is flirting with a mid-life crisis. His character, Carl, is divorced, rarely gets to see his eleven year old son and has lost direction. He can't serve the food he wants and he losing grip of things just as one of the biggest food critics is about to review his food. These circumstance throw him into a whirl wind, affecting his choices for the rest of the film.
Let me start by saying something contradictory: this is not a film about food. Well it is. . . but it isn't! (I know, I'm sounding stupid already). This a film about rekindling a passion. It's about establishing meaningful relationships with your children, going back to your roots and finding your purpose in life. That's a heavy load to placing on comedy. Though, this film is more than that. It has, at its core, true drama. Sure, it is embellished by its funnier moments; but it works together on both levels making it, if you will, a “dramedy”.
Another reason this “dramedy” works is because of the cast. Jon Favreau pulled all the strings to get one of the best casts of the year in Chef. Dustin Hoffman, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johanson, Sofia Vergara and plenty more have appearances in the film. At first glance some of these roles could seem gratuitous, but they are so entertaining that it doesn't matter. Surprisingly enough, none of these A-listers are the real reason this film works. Jon Favreau, Emjay Anthony, John Leguizamo together are the real pièce de résistance on this menu.
Jon Favreau is the near perfect centerpiece for the main course. He really sells his passion, hilarious ignorance, and everything else needed from his dynamic performance. Jon Favreau is only made better by his son in the film played by talented Emjay Anthony. The two bounce off of each other incredibly well. Much of the film is dependent on their chemistry and the building of their relationship. If these elements didn't work, Chef could have fallen apart pretty quickly. Thankfully the combination of the two is delicious and it is only seasoned by the third element: the tangy flavor of John Leguizamo. The added comedic spice of the film is very much Leguizamo. He is there to make everyone else's dialogue that much more impactful and hilarious with his every response, whether it be remaining silent in an insightful expression or with his sharp dialogue.
Speaking of dialogue, some of the best of it I have seen of the year is in this film. The one-on-one deeply personal moments between Jon Favreau and his son feel so human and genuine. A lot of the lines are also so quippy and sharp. They not only bring out the humor, but show such intelligence in the writing.
Then there is the food. . . I could go at length how gorgeous everything looks and how beautifully ritualistic the scenes of them preparing it are, but I think they are better experienced first hand then objectively talked about from a distance.
Like almost all films though, Chef is not without flaw. Thankfully, its blemishes are minor at best. To start with, the ending feels a little too forced, as if they felt everything needed to be wrapped tight with a bow. It doesn't need to be and slightly subtracts from gleeful messiness of life that was built up throughout the film. Not to say that it is cheap, because the film at least worked for its conclusion with a build up; it just all felt a little too easy. Another thing that can be distracting is the pacing. At times it works perfectly as the layers of the story - much like lasagna - are built up perfectly, but every once in a while an excess of sauce and cheese spills out from the sides leaving a tad too much story on our plate that we don't want or need.
Unnecessary food comparisons aside, let's divulge into our meat and potatoes of whether Chef is worth seeing (oh, there I go again. . .). Yes, period, exclamation mark – this film is worth seeing. The acting is great. The dialogue is even better, and the presentation of the food in the film is mouthwatering. Chef is about as good as you could ask an indie film to film to be. Kudos to Jon Favreau for having the kahonas to serve it to us.
Personal Preference: 4/5
Critical Analysis: 4.5/5