Jon Favreau has a longer history as an actor than as a writer/director but it’s the latter class that Jon Favreau’s career has had a few bumps in the road lately.most people seem to know him as these days. After writing Swingers and directing Made and later Elf he eventually was given the job of bringing Marvel Studios first film to screen with Iron Man. That film was a smash hit and kicked off one of the biggest franchises of all time but the follow-up Iron Man 2 and later Cowboys & Aliens were met with less enthusiastic responses.
After all that bombast Chef represents a return to the type of film that got Favreau noticed as a writer/director in the first place: a smaller, simpler film with a straightforward premise and a lot of heart.
And you know what? It’s really good.
The film tells the story of Carl Casper (Favreau), a once up and coming chef from Miami who now languishes creatively in a restaurant in California. After getting a bad review from a critic (Oliver Platt) when his boss forces him to cook the regular menu rather than the special one he was preparing he goes on a rant which is captured on video and goes viral online.
Now out of work and with no potential to find more he agrees to a trip home to Miami with his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara) as a chance to clear his head and establish a relationship with his son Percy (EmJay Anthony). He takes a meeting with a scene stealing Robert Downey Jr. and ends up with a food truck which along with Percy and his best friend Martin (John Leguizamo). They then take the month Percy has off school to drive the truck home to California selling good food all the way.
I’m not gonna lie here, that plot outline above is pretty complete. this isn’t a complex movie, it’s really just about learning to do the thing you love and letting it make you happy, and about sharing that thing with the ones you love and connecting with them over it. Carl’s main arc is about him finding joy in his work and about connecting with his son and it’s just a pleasure to watch.
Favreau is a good actor with a strong presence on-screen and the chemistry between him and Anthony is great as well as a pleasure to watch grow as the characters finally connect in a way they never really have before.
John Leguizamo is good as the best friend and Sofia Vergara gives what I think might be the most understated performance I’ve ever seen her give (which is a refreshing change from her usual over-the-top persona). Scarlett Johansson shows up in the first act as a hostess and she’s lovely but never reappears after Carl loses his job (more on that in a second) and Robert Downey Jr has brief scene as the man Carl buys the food truck from and nearly steals the movie.
If the film has a problem it’s that the first act is a little bit over long. The film gets moving once the food truck shows up but it takes a long time to get there and most of the supporting characters from the first act never reappear (including Bobby Cannavale as the sous chef at the restaurant Carl gets fired from). This is a pretty minor problem though because once the film gets moving you won’t really care. The rest of the film is a joy to watch and you’re pretty much guaranteed to walk out with a grin plastered on your face.
Oh, and one other thing, the shots of the food in this movie are amazing. Whether it’s a scene of Carl creating the perfect grilled cheese sandwich or Carl, fresh pasta for Scarlett Johansson, or Percy and Martin enjoying slices of beef from a real Texas barbecue, you are seriously going to leave hungry.
Chef took a long time to get to Vancouver, it debuted in limited release nearly a month ago n the US and has been slowly rolling out to more markets ever since. My sincere advice is that if it’s playing in your market then you should go see it.