28 November-4 December 2014 #734


A smart film that is not far from the typical, but will surprise you pleasantly
Sophia Pande

Jon Favreau is a likeable guy. He is also incredibly good at what he does, which is: act (he is a comedian), write, and direct. His is one of those immediately recognisable faces that everyone knows but whose name few of us can remember partly because Favreau has perfected the art of playing the “everyman”.

Straying away from writing and starring in charming comedies such as Swingers (1996), Favreau changed his trajectory when he signed on to direct the widely popular and incredibly good Iron Man in 2008. He even played Robert Downey Jr.’s (Iron Man) loyal friend and driver, Happy Hogan, in a tongue in cheek homage to his usual roles in past comedies.

Favreau wisely bowed out from directing the third Iron Man film, opting instead to write and direct other things, among which Chef which came out earlier this year is one of the most successful.

While the premise of Chef is incredibly formulaic: a divorced chef has a breakdown and leaves his successful but boring L.A. based haute cuisine restaurant (suitably titled “Gauloise”) on the brink of bankruptcy so that he can finally experiment with food, his first love, it has its moments of sheer delight. 

Carl Casper (Favreau’s character) ends up on an epic journey with his highly articulate, internet savvy preteen son Percy (Emjay Anthony), when he opens a food truck business, set up by his loving but fed up former wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) and ironically funded by Inez’s previous husband Marvin (perfectly played to oily perfection by Robert Downey Jr.).

Why would such a film be interesting? Well, I had my own reservations at the beginning. But slowly, despite the obvious conclusion, there are happy surprises along the way. Favreau and Anthony work adorably well together in their portrayal of an estranged father and son who find their way together through food. There are also, in addition to Vergara, a stellar cast of supporting actors including John Leguizamo as Martin, Favreau’s sidekick and assistant chef, Scarlett Johansson plays Molly the hostess (of Gauloise) with a heart of gold, and Dustin Hoffman is Riva, the neurotic but ethical owner of said “Gauloise” who supports Casper up until his epic blowout with food critic Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt) - yet another unexpected addition to the already wonderful cast.

In just under two hours, Chef manages to serve a perfect mix of family drama, romance, and buddy comedy. Last but not least, it is a document of American cuisine at its best taking viewers on a culinary journey from Florida, through New Orleans and New Mexico to California. Don’t let your skepticism hold you back from giving this one a watch. Chef will surprise you pleasantly.

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