With Chef you can’t help but feel that Jon Favreau has gathered together a group of his friends, indulged in his favourite past time, and had a fine time. It’s like the Oceans 12 approach to film-making, though less smug and aware. The result is a slight film but one full of charm.
Favreau plays Carl Casper, an LA based high-end chef who comes apart following a series of unfortunate events. He is hampered creatively by the restaurant owner (Dustin Hoffman) but soon his ill-temper, and misunderstanding of social media, find him at a dead end with his home and work life in a mess. The story puts Casper on a road to redemption, quite literally, travelling from Miami to LA, re-inspired and motivated by selling Cuban sandwiches from a food truck. The film could not be more of its age: food culture, street food, and social media propel the film, its gags and purpose.
The film feels like a light confection: it has no real structure to speak of and simmers without the highs and lows you would expect from a story of redemption. Favreau, himself a passionate cook, is front and centre and even though he is the cause of his own undoing, and isn’t the world’s best Dad, he’s painted in sympathetic light. He is also the most fortunate of men with a hugely supportive and well resourced network around him. Scarlett Johansson and Sofia Vergara want to take him to bed and/or finance him (not necessarily in that order), while colleagues and contacts (Robert Downey Jr., John Leguizamo) are willing to invest and show fierce loyalty. Everything is almost too easy; there is no real challenge in turning things around and for all that the movie is tied to a journey, both literal and figurative, there is little movement. Favreau, also on writing and directing duties only allows breathing space for his own character and marginally his son and their dynamic. The blunt story telling, in particular the unreasonable line taken by Dustin Hoffman on diversifying a menu, would be open to criticism in any other setting but the film never creates expectations of high art. It seems more concerned with catering to us in a virtual restaurant. The film has a sunshine glaze, ambient soundtrack and wallows in gastro-porn. Slathering spagehtti; building sandwiches; words are lost while devouring beef fresh from a grill. Don’t come to Chef hungry.