This movie released before summer hit in limited release and never really made it towards where I live. But they’ve done the smart thing and released again with a wider theater-base and in this slump following the summer, with very little competition. So when I saw it coming to a theater right down the street, I knew I had to take this chance.
The gist. Jon Favreau wrote, directed, and starred in Chef. He’s most recently known for directing the first two Iron Man films and starring as Tony Stark’s bodyguard Happy. He also directed the movie Elf. So, Jon Favreau stars as a chef at a restaurant and we join the story on the day that a renowned internet reviewer is going to score the restaurant. Favreau wants to shake up the menu and cook his best stuff, but the owner (Dustin Hoffman) tells him to stick to the regular menu. Things don’t well and it sends Favreau’s character on a spiral downward that has him reevaluating his life.
This is just the first act of the movie, full of most of the movie’s conflict, but the next two acts (and most of the movie) is full of much more rewarding moments. Favreau connects with his son (newcomer Emjay Anthony), his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara), and makes a best friend of his former colleague (John Leguizamo). Robert Downey Jr and Scarlett Johansson are marketed as being in the film, while both serve very small and insignificant roles. Downey is literally in one scene only.
Favreau, on all fronts, knocks this out of the park. On the written page, he’s crafted essentially two stories that beautifully intertwine. One is a touching story of a father teaching his son about the thing he cares most about, and then getting closer to his son through that. The other story is a man coming to grips with what makes him truly happy and then diving headfirst into what is essentially the life he’s always wanted. There’s a subtle third story about social media and how generations view the world differently through it, but that tone mostly plays into the first two important narratives.
As a director, Favreau has made a stunningly gorgeous movie. I have an appreciation for cooking because I can barely make a sandwich, so to see all the inner workings of a restaurant is fascinating. And he uses bright and vivid colors and exotic foods to give us a whole new perspective of the chef experience. It’s a wonderfully shot movie that pairs nicely with the narrative.
And then as an actor… It’s been some time since Favreau was really in a starring role, so it was great to see him in front of the camera again. And he killed it. He was hilarious when needed but there were some really touching quiet moments that he really nailed as well, mostly in the scenes with his on-screen son. These moments made the whole movie come together and reminded us why this journey is important.
The supporting cast is mostly spectacular. Emjay Anthony as the son was amazing and I was surprised to like Sofia Vergara as much as I did. John Leguizamo was also pretty awesome and likeable, which was quite a return to form after being essentially non-existent for the last handful of years.
What didn’t work?
Jon Favreau took some big names he knew in Hollywood and asked them to be in the movie and it was almost a disservice to include them in the small roles that they had. Scarlett Johansson was in a few scenes in the beginning but it was almost distracting when she kind of was phased out of the movie, since she’s such a big name. Likewise with Robert Downey Jr. and his one scene. You could feel it that Downey likely said “I have a free day, I can shoot Tuesday” and that’s all Favreau could get from him. Lesser known actors might’ve been able to steal these scenes, but huge stars gave almost the opposite from the desired final product.
Chef is an incredible film and I’m glad more people are getting the chance to see it. It’s a feel good movie that had me smiling uncontrollably for most of it. It’s a great story paired with incredible (though sometimes underused) talent, all shot in a beautiful way that will make you super hungry if you don’t eat beforehand. Try to catch this in theaters now if you can, it’s quite an experience.