Even after working in blockbuster franchises such as: ‘Star Wars’ and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, director Jon Favreau (Zathura, Iron Man, The Lion King) crafts one of his best films to-date with this clear passion project. Being obsessed with food and cooking in his spare-time, Favreau puts his kitchen knowledge to perfect use as his film ‘Chef’ focuses on the story of a middle-age man taking his wonderful tastes across America, and whilst fairly simplistic, this lower-budget flick still manages to remain a charming comedy-drama from beginning to end.
Plot Summary: ‘Carl Casper’ is an acclaimed chef with a family life that seems as decaying as his artistic freedom. But after being fired from his restaurant job due to an aggressive confrontation with a snarky food critic, ‘Carl’ decides to travel across America selling his own dishes in a second-hand taco truck…
Although not directly based on a true story per-say, ‘Chef’ does take inspiration from plenty of real-world figures in addition to Jon Favreau’s own history in cuisine. The main source of inspiration for the film, however, was the professional food truck chef Roy Choi. Who actually agreed to give Favreau further chef training for the film under the exception he agreed to present a truly authentic portrayal of the life of a chef, and considering the film’s focus on ‘Carl’s struggling funds and the impact the cynical words of food critics can have, I feel the director certainly succeeded.
Jon Favreau portrays ‘Carl’ superbly throughout the film, giving the protagonist a decent amount of range despite him never receiving an enormous amount of characterisation. The rest of the cast of John Leguizamo, Emjay Anthony, and Sofía Vergara, as well as Scarlett Johansson and Dustin Hoffman for a short period, are all decent within their respective roles, with Robert Downey Jr. even making a short appearance in the film as ‘Marvin’, which interestingly he agreed to do for free as a favour to Favreau for the decision he made to cast him as ‘Tony Stark’ a.k.a. ‘Iron Man’ years earlier, which most now believe to be his most iconic role.
While ‘Chef’ does have a fairly bright colour palette, the cinematography by Kramer Morgenthau is ultimately nothing above-average. As while the film does have some interesting shots, they’re fairly infrequent throughout. However, this is with the exception of the many close-ups of the food itself, as ‘Chef’ does a superb job at making the audience’s mouth water through the delicious food it presents. As the film features a variety of both very creative and very tasty-looking dishes. The film even manages to contain a little stylistic flair with Twitter being represented by animated blue birds which flutter into the sky whenever a character tweets, which actually plays into the story quite well.
The original score by Lyle Workman isn’t anything overly memorable, but the soundtrack’s Mexican feel does back-up the film’s story effectively and really fits with many of the locations the food truck stops at as ‘Carl’ travels across the states of America. ‘Chef’ also utilises a huge range of iconic songs throughout its runtime, most of which also stick to the film’s Mexican aesthetic. From ‘I Like It Like That’ to ‘Lucky Man’ and even ‘Sexual Healing,’ the film’s long list of songs really add to its mostly upbeat tone.
Unfortunately, ‘Chef’ is mostly dragged down by its overall emotional depth, as although the film is usually entertaining and engaging throughout, the film sometimes lacks the real emotional weight a drama needs, as ‘Carl’s rough relationship with his ex-wife receives little-to-no development, with most of the narrative’s focus being placed on ‘Carl’ reconnecting with his son: ‘Percy,’ which mostly makes for amusing and somewhat relatable scenes rather than any real dramatic moments. Whilst it doesn’t hurt the film really, some characters throughout ‘Chef’ also seem to disappear without a trace, in particular, the character: ‘Jen’ portrayed by Amy Sedaris, who only appears in a single scene and has virtually no impact on the plot, which comes across as a little odd.
Altogether, while there are definitely more memorable comedy-dramas out there, ‘Chef’ delivers on exactly on what it sets-out to, featuring some likeable characters portrayed by its great cast, alongside its fantastic soundtrack and scrumptious-looking food, the film is truly a treat whether your an expert in the kitchen yourself or not. It is a shame the film’s more dramatic side doesn’t fully deliver, as I do genuinely feel ‘Chef’ is a perfect example of Favreau’s filmmaking/acting talent outside any of franchise. Final Rating: low 8/10.