By Simon Miraudo
May 9, 2014
Chef is the most unremarkable film to ever be considered a ‘bridge-burner’, but that it is. Writer-director Jon Favreau revisits his acting roots as, well, a chef who turns his back on high-priced, uninventive gourmet food and earns back artistic credit in a dingy sandwich truck. No doubt the man who famously walked away from the Iron Man franchise and was pilloried for Cowboys & Aliens wants to remind us of his Swingers origins, and maybe blame the critical failings of his last few flicks on those in charge of the coffers (and on reviewers’ general, erm, meanness). Here, it’s Dustin Hoffman‘s boring restaurateur, who instructs Favreau’s Carl Casper to just keep churning out the same pap that draws in the obedient crowds. It’ll be interesting to see if studio execs are keen to work with Favreau on any future endeavours after their symbolic-crucifixion in this. Maybe the purse-strings will be closed to him when he starts shopping his multi-million dollar Chef sequel, Plates of Future Pasta.
Famous actors are still happy to hitch their star to Favreau’s wagon though, with Scarlett Johansson playing Casper’s front-of-house staff and casual flame, Sofia Vergara appearing as Casper’s ex-wife, and Robert Downey Jr. dropping in, very briefly, as his ex’s eccentric ex. Bobby Cannavale and John Leguizamo can be found in Casper’s kitchen too, while Oliver Platt‘s notorious L.A. critic is responsible for sending our hero into his spiral of despair by – rightfully – identifying the lack of heart in his product. Favreau, making up for his “heartless” comic book adaptations (his metaphorical words, not mine), injects “heart” into Chef by refocusing the entire second half of the feature onto Casper’s relationship with his son Percy (Emjay Anthony), the two of them travelling together aboard their Cubano-mobile from Miami to Los Angeles. Casper shares with him the secrets of great sandwich making; Percy educates his father on proper Twitter etiquette. Sadly, there is way more of the second thing than the first thing.
Totally inoffensive – except maybe to Favreau’s former bosses – Chef is a pleasant enough watch, especially for those interested in watching strangers eat delectable cuts of meats from New Orleans and the like. It’s nice to see Favreau, always appealing in front of the camera, acting once again, and novel to see his co-stars whenever they pop up on screen. But there’s no movie here. Not really. There are lots of loving shots of gloriously assembled meals, and driving montages, and even a couple of musical performances, and that’s about it. When Casper and son finally get back to Miami – having, presumably, learnt real lessons about life and love and Latin-style cuisine – he finds himself quickly drawn back to an existence not so different to that which made him miserable in the first place. And this is the happy ending. Seems Favreau isn’t actually in the business of bridge-burning. Seems he’s flirting with the indie world only to cleanse his palette for an eventual return to mass-produced, fast-food filmmaking. Fitfully amusing and beautifully photographed, Chef is undone by its frequent, hypocritical attacks on generic art. Hey, what do I know? I liked Iron Man 2.
Chef is now showing in Australian cinemas.