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Chef Review: utterly sharp and endearing

Chef, writer/director Jon Favreau’s passion project, is a wholly charming and cute little film that banishes all lingering feelings regarding Cowboys & Aliens with its personal story and its mouth-watering visuals despite the familiar and predictable narrative.

Chef Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) quits his job at a prominent Los Angeles restaurant after clashing with its owner (Dustin Hoffman) and making a fool of himself online. Finding himself in Miami, he teams up with his right hand man (John Leguizamo) and his son Percy (Emjay Anthony) to launch a food truck. Taking to the road, Chef Carl goes back to his roots to reignite his passion for the kitchen.

Acting – B

Placing himself firmly at the centre of this little triumph, Favreau’s performance is enstilled with the zest and juice of one of his meals. It’s a lively performance that is bubbly and cuddly at times, loving and tragic in others but always endearing. It’s overtly clear that Favreau’s time behind the camera has elevated his experience in front of it.

A special mention must also be given to Emjay Anthony who, whilst laboured with the typical estranged son role and lines, is enthusiastic and tempered as Percy, Favreau’s on screen son.

However, despite being a supposed indie film, Favreau has a detailed contacts book. Calling in the likes of Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey Jr. and Dustin Hoffman naturally played into the marketing reach of the film but pulled away from the personal story. Granted, Johansson and Hoffman’s roles are fleshed out enough to overlook but the seemingly pop-your-head-in-for-a-second snarky scene courtesy of Robert Downey Jr., whilst fun and silly, took away from the small familial story Favreau has so painstakingly crafted.

Story – C+

Perhaps Chef’s only other weakness, aside from the ill-advised flashy supporting roles, is the rather predictable, seen it all before, story. Favreau clearly wanted to craft a feel-good film that paralleled his own career – one of a career that returned to its roots after the commercially crafted Cowboys & Aliens crashed – and in doing so, the writer/director took a worn path.

If you’ve seen any film with a redemptive arc and a father/son relationship, then you’ve seen chef. It doesn’t do anything special with its main course but it is the side dishes, the little dips and tasters that whet the appetite and steal the show.

Direction – B-

Now, I’m a rather large man. Don’t look at me like that – I used to be larger. So I understand Favreau’s connection with food. He even slightly digs at his own weight gain in the film. Having said that, that connection is played up to in Chef. Favreau’s sumptuous angles his leering movement towards searing meat and melting cheeses are perfect and mouth-watering. At times he takes the love a tad too far holding on to shots and sequences for far too long. As a result the film clocks at just less that 2-hours which is 20 minutes too long for a story this personal.

Nevertheless, he holds the focus, when it isn’t on food, firmly on the father/son relationship at the heart of the picture. For some it will be a tear-jerker that you love and admire whilst others will simply smile and bathe in the feel-good waters.

Score – B-

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