Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Review 277: "Chef"

Starting from scratch never tasted
so good.

The Next Top Chef

      Chef is a 2014 film that did the festival circuit before being released to theaters in May. Or, if you're like me, released to that one weird theater that occasionally plays smaller films a month after they come out. The film is written and directed by Jon Favreau (Iron Man). The story follows Carl Casper (Jon Favreau), a chef once renowned as the best, now settling for decent, crowd-pleasing food under the safe control of restaurant owner Riva (Dustin Hoffman). Unfortunately, when an argument with food critic Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt) goes viral and ruins Casper's career, he's forced to do something he never wanted to do: open a food truck. With the help of his ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara), Casper takes his new food truck El Jefe on the road with his son Percy (EmJay Anthony) and chef friend Martin (John Leguizamo), regaining his passion for food and the love of his family along the way. The film also stars Scarlett Johansson as a restaurant hostess, Bobby Cannavale as another chef and Robert Downey Jr. as the financier of the truck.

That kalamari tells the best jokes...

      I've always liked Jon Favreau as a director a lot more than many other people do. Sure, people like him, but I don't think older critics really get just how big Favreau's film were for my generation. I mean, sure, a ton of people consider Iron Man is be great, even a bit of a classic, but I'm not sure they get how much a lot of kids my age love both Elf and Zathura. I love all three of those films, but I won't lie that these last few years haven't been great for Favreau. I liked Iron Man 2 a lot more than most people, but Cowboys & Aliens is pretty bad. And in many ways, Chef feels like Jon Favreau acknowledging that. After all, the film is about a skilled person once called great regaining his passion after a few years of making crowd-pleasing works. That's a bit on the nose. or I'm reading too much into it. Whatever made Favreau make Chef though is ultimately a good thing. Because it caused one of my personal favorite directors to make his best film yet, so that's good.

The Main Course

      After a year filled with my favorite films being either high concept comedies, high concept thrillers or Captain America, sometimes you just have to respect damn good filmmaking. And while Chef doesn't have many twists or turns, nor does it have the most original story, Favreau is just so good at putting it all together that it all works perfectly. The characters in the film are the ones I'd want to spend more time with than any other from any film this year. They are all acted greatly, but Favreau naturally stands out as the great Carl Casper. Leguizamo, escaping the land of Ice Age sequels, is better than he's been in recent memory as a great and funny supporting character. Even Anthony is pretty good, for being a kid in a family drama film. The film is sweet and charming, in part to a great sense of humor that keeps everything fun and light-hearted. This also keeps the film at a swift pace, so that it doesn't overstay it's welcome. Not that I wouldn't have minded it being a little longer.

Hey look, it's the poster! Without Leguizamo...
And a different Favreau. Hey, wait a minute!
The Verdict

      There's not much more to say. Chef is just good damn filmmaking. Jon Favreau pulls triple duty here and he's great in all facets of the film. Him, along with the rest of the stellar cast play out a familiar but great story. Plus, with a consistently funny and heartwarming script with a little bit of kick to it, the film is easily one of the best times I had in theaters all year. Which isn't surprising, seeing as how this is Favreau's best film and one of the best films of 2014. Chef gets 6 stars out of 6.

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