Chef, written and directed by Jon Favreau. Starring Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale, Emjay Anthony, Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, Sofía Vergara, Oliver Platt, and Robert Downey Jr. Distributed by Open Roads Films, 2014. Rated R for language, including some suggestive references. Running time: 114 minutes.
Rare is the film about a businessman who loves his work. Chef is such a film.
Jon Favreau, who wrote and directed the film, portrays Carl Casper, a chef at odds with the owner of the restaurant where he works. Carl wants to experiment and innovate with his menu; the owner wants him to prepare the same menu the restaurant has always served. The tension comes to a head when a famous food critic (portrayed by Oliver Platt) pans Carl’s food after Carl, under pressure from the owner, abandons his planned menu.
What’s worse, Carl and the critic get into a nasty war of words on social media, subjecting Carl to intense Internet mockery.
Carl reaches rock bottom after he loses his job. He had already gotten divorced from his wife, and his relationship with his son had fallen apart. Things never looked grimmer.
Finally Carl decides to try an approach he had vowed never to try: start a food truck. With some help from his ex-wife, Carl buys a truck, and, with his assistant chef and his son, he renovates the truck and starts selling Cubano sandwiches on the road. Thanks to his tech-savvy son, Carl learns that Internet media can be a blessing, not just a curse. And, for the first time in a long time, Carl has fun again doing what he loves.
Much of the film focuses on Carl’s efforts to restore his relationship with his son, largely by teaching his son his trade. One scene poignantly captures this aspect of the film—and indicates why the film is worth watching. After his son tries to hand a customer a burned sandwich, Carl takes him aside and says, “I love [being a chef]. . . . I might not do everything great in my life . . . but I’m good at this. And I want to share this with you. I want to teach you what I learned. I get to touch people’s lives with what I do, and it keeps me going, and I love it, and I think if you give it a shot, you might love it, too.”
The cast is wonderful. Not only are Favreau, John Leguizamo (as his assistant), and Emjay Anthony (as the son) excellent, but the film is peppered with delightful appearances by Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Downey Jr., and others.
Although some viewers might not enjoy the film’s occasional off-color humor, anyone looking for a light-hearted yet respectful treatment of a producer struggling to make a comeback in his career likely will find Chef to be a savory cinematic morsel.