Written and Directed by Jon Favreau
Starring Jon Favreau, Sofia Vergara, John Leguizamo, Scarlett Johannson, Oliver Platt, Bobby Cannavale, Dustin Hoffman, and Robert Downy Jr.
This past summer, my sister and I had a day off, and we wanted to see a movie. The one that looked like the winner was Chef, written and directed by one of our favorites, Jon Favreau. It seemed to have all of the elements that two girls like us would love. One, it’s about a chef, and the both of us have worked in restaurants most of our adult lives. Two, the cast is spectacular: Sophia Vergara AND John Leguizamo… not to mention Robert Downey Jr. Three, it’s a comedy, and we both love a good laugh. Sadly, we never got to see it in theaters. But magically it ended up in my review queue. Was it worth the wait?
The story of Chef starts with the very talented chef, Carl Casper. He works at some bougie restaurant in Los Angeles, where Dustin Hoffman is either the owner or the general manager. Right off the bat, they have me. Casper makes magical creations using the best ingredients, and everything looks so dang good! I LOVE watching food being made. There is something so fascinating about it. The beginning of the film made me feel cultured and smart. Working at an upscale restaurant myself, where the chef changes the menu often, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I not only knew what they were talking about with all of the dishes, but that I had also tasted everything that they were talking about, including sweet breads and beef cheeks. For those of you who don’t know, sweet breads are the thyroid gland of an animal, obviously not my thing. But I do love beef cheeks, which takes on a pot roast consistency, and is insanely good, if prepared correctly.
We see that Chef Casper is preparing for a big night. Some big food critic is coming in to review the restaurant. This guy seems to be the critic who could make or break the restaurant. Casper is preparing all of his great foods when his best friend and fellow chef, played by Leguizamo, reminds him that he must pick up his son. Casper goes to pick up his son, played by newcomer Emjay Anthony. Anthony is quite the gifted little actor, playing the adolescently disinterested yet doting son. Sadly, Casper, despite loving the stuffing out of his son, pushes him to the side so that he can focus on his food. Casper’s ex-wife and mother of his child is played by Vergara. Throughout the beginning of the movie, she is constantly trying to get Casper to start a food truck. Casper rebuffs her every time, thinking that he is too good to do “food truck” food.
THIS is where Favreau looses it. I had never noticed it before, but he really doesn’t know how to write women characters. It takes a very special hand to make Sophia Vergara boring. Well, she’s not boring in this film, but she definitely looses her sparkle. I didn’t expect her to be the screaming Gloria from Modern Family, but I will say that she does not act like any hot blooded woman I know. In fact, more like the fantasy of what some men want a woman to be like- sexy with just a hint of fire, but not too much fire. Seriously, she is the most understanding ex-wife that I have EVER seen, in fact too understanding. Anytime that he messes up with their son, she just gives him a sweet look and tells him to open up a food truck. I’m not buying it.
And another character, who not only gets lost, but is completely superfluous to the story, is Scarlett Johannson’s character. I can’t even remember her character’s name. I just know that she is Casper’s girlfriend who is either a manager or a host at the restaurant where they both work. It actually took me a while to figure out that the two were dating, even when she was sexily draped on his bed waiting for him to cook for her. The chemistry between the two was the worst I’ve ever seen on film. There is no reason for her character, other than to show that Casper is a mack daddy chef who can bag any woman. And call me crazy, but in what world does a man who looks like Favreau, in his current state (because there are films where he can be QUITE dapper), get two drop dead gorgeous woman?
Anyways, Casper has an entire new and exciting menu planned for the critic, and Hoffman comes in to halt production. He wants to serve the old menu, which the restaurant has been serving for the past five years. Casper makes a great case, only to be turned down. Looks like it’s just filet and molten lava cake. The reviews come in, and the critic rips Casper a new one, sending him into a tailspin of depression, anger, and eventually rage, where he confronts the critic in his restaurant and gets taped screaming and throwing cake at him.
Now, Casper has nothing: no job, no income… no pride. Until his saintly ex wife, again, a little too saintly if you ask me, offers him a “job” as his own son’s “nanny” while they all go to Miami to see Vergara’s father. This is starting to sound more fantastical than Lord of the Rings.
While in Miami, Casper finally decides to take Vergara’s advice and start a food truck, with the help from Vergara’s first husband, played by the swag-tastic Robert Downy Jr. RDJ is by far the best part of the film, even though he’s only in 15 minutes of the whole thing. Casper takes this opportunity to show his eager son what it’s like to be a real chef in a kitchen, even buying him his own chef’s knife. Leguizamo also flies into Miami to join in on the fun. So now, Casper, Leguizamo, and his son start working on the food truck and eventually decide to sell Cuban sandwiches.
The rest of the movie is sweet at best, but incredibly predictable. You would think that since Favreau, who was made famous from an off the wall comedy like Swingers, would have skewed away from the whole Hollywood norm thing. All in all, a cute little story, but awful women characters, and an insanely predictable ending. I suppose for a gullible foodie-dude with a lady fantasy complex, it would be a good time, but for my more discerning palate, I found it a little bland.
Quite nice really. The Blu Ray does not disappoint visually. Shot in 1080p High Definition, on a big screen, it looks like it would in a theater. I also loved all of the food visuals. Favreau might not know how to direct or write for women, but he sure as hell knows how to shoot some beautiful food scenes. Maybe he should think about starting something for The Food Network.
This is the first time in a long time where I’ve experienced a Blu Ray that was poorly mixed. The music soundtrack would pop out so loud that I would have to turn the volume down at least 10 notches every time. And then the dialogue would be so low that I’d have to turn it back up again, hus leaving my hand on the remote for the entirety of the movie. At least it kept me engaged in the film, and not on my phone. Otherwise, I would have been going for a new high score on Temple Run.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
Chef uses a smart packaging ploy. The stills from that they chose from the actual film are quite boring. They should have put more food prep pictures in there. What they did do that was smart, was post pictures of the entire cast. THAT is why people want to watch this movie; there is a great cast behind it. So, kudos to the marketing experts for banking on that. Otherwise, it’s a boring package.
The bonus features are pretty abysmal too. There are some deleted scenes, which are about as lack luster as the rest of the film, and a commentary with writer/director Favreau and Co-Producer Roy Choi. I seriously TRIED to watch this, but it just couldn’t keep my attention for more than 15 minutes.
Overall (Not an Average)
I was really looking forward to this film, and I was sorely disappointed. I HATE it when that happens. The bones of the story were great. Everyone loves to think that they are a foodie now, but they don’t want the stuffy-ness of a fine dining restaurant all of the time. That is why food trucks are so big now. They are gourmet and accessible at the same time… every hipster’s and hipster hater’s dream.
The film started off so well, but I really think the main problem here, is that Favreau needs to rethink where his fantasy meter is. Buddy, if you’re going to make a realistic movie, make it realistic. Leave the fantasy to Marvel, although I think that there’s more real in Iron Man than there was in Chef. Learn to write women and an ending that doesn’t make us all need an insulin shot from the sugary sweet Hollywood end cap, please.