Honestly, this was the most fun I’ve had at the movies this year. I am saying this even after I wrote two reviews on Captain America, not because it was better, but because I had a smile on my face almost the entire way through. I loved Cap 2 and totally nerded out the entire time, but it was fun in a different way.
The story focuses on Carl Casper (played by the movie’s writer/director Jon Favreau), a chef working in an LA restaurant. While he is creative and always wants to challenge himself to create the next culinary masterpiece, his boss, a restaurateur (the inimitable Dustin Hoffman), wants him to stick with the proven favorites.
After he toes the line and gets a two-star review from one of the top local critics in return, Casper wants go bold and prove the critic (Oliver Platt) that he is still great and doesn’t deserve to be cut down because of a menu his boss made him serve. This doesn’t fly, he loses his shit on the internet, and gets fired. Now without anything to tie him down, his ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) wants to take him and their son to Miami to rediscover his culinary roots and start a food truck business.
I won’t say much about the actors because they’re all fantastic, as usual. Favreau, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, John Leguizamo, and the little boy who plays Casper’s son Percy (Emjay Anthony) are wonderful, but it’s the relationship between Carl, Percy, and Martin (Leguizamo) that gives this movie the heart and bite that makes it so enjoyable.
The story was a little weak at times, indulging in the food porn element a little more than the logic or development of the plot, but I’m not complaining. That food looked amazing and I don’t blame them one bit. It was like watching an episode of No Reservations or Food Paradise, except with great actors who take a road trip cross-country. I could watch them cook that food and visit those cities over and over again. That said, I felt a little let-down by the ending, mainly because I didn’t feel like the rest of the story prior to it had set it up well enough to make it very believable, but again, I’m not really complaining, just mentioning.
What I really, truly loved about the movie was how it incorporated social media like Twitter and Vine into the plot. Part of what gets Carl into trouble with the critic at the beginning is his son shows him how to use Twitter and Carl accidentally replies to a tweet Ramsey Michel (Platt) sent about his food instead of DM’ing and the publicity/scandal escalates from there. This was hilarious to me because Favreau is quite active on Twitter in real life, so it’s hard to imagine him making a mistake like that, but it made sense for his character.
The thing that was really cool about it was how smart the kid was with social media. Percy tweets about the food truck after they get on the road and drums up a ton of business without even trying, and is able to cut together Vines and videos to promote the truck and the food. Incorporating the social media into the film was seamless, clever, and made it feel really relevant to our social, internet-driven culture.
The only thing I had a hard time buying was that Carl didn’t speak Spanish. His ex-wife speaks Spanish, he used to live in Miami where he ran a kitchen, he lives in LA where he runs a kitchen, and the guy doesn’t speak Spanish? Not even a little? Come on, son! While we’re on the subject of believability, some people might think it was a reach casting Vergara as Favreau’s character’s wife, but I didn’t have a problem with it. I think the Spanish thing was more of stretch.
Chef is mouthwatering, funny, and incredibly sweet. Leguizamo steals the show in many instances–no surprise there–as does Emjay Anthony, but overall, Chef was a fun, feel-good story about a man rediscovering his passion, rebuilding his relationship with his son, and reminding the world just how good food looks on the big screen.
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