Starring: Jon Favreau (The Wolf of Wall Street), John Leguizamo (Ice Age), Sofia Vergara (Modern Family), Emjay Anthony, Scarlett Johansson (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), Oliver Platt (X-Men: First Class), Dustin Hoffman (The Graduate), Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man 3)
Writer/Director: Jon Favreau (Iron Man)
Runtime: 1 hour 54 minutes
Release Date: 9 May (US), 25 June (UK)
Jon Favreau has certainly had one of the more interesting careers in recent film history. After writing and starring in indie classic Swingers, Favreau continued to be a familiar face in movies and on TV whilst transitioning to directing with films like Made, Elf and Zathura, before finally getting a huge break by directing Iron Man and kicking off the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a bang. After dabbling with the big boys for a few years, Favreau now returns to his roots with his newest creation Chef. Is this picture the freshest flick on the market, or should it be sent back to the kitchen?
Chef certainly feels like a very personal film for Favreau. Not just because it has the flavour of his earlier work, but also because the film’s story does mirror his own career in many ways. Not that the metaphor ever becomes grading or obtuse, as Favreau resists the temptation to turn the film into an “I hate critics” anthem the way Roland Emmerich and M. Night Shymalan have done in the past, but it’s hard not to see Carl Casper’s struggles paralleling the flack Favreau received for Iron Man 2 and Cowboys & Aliens (which I personally think are unfairly shat upon). But putting aside any potential deeper meaning, the story of Chef is a simple but heart-warming and effective tale of a man learning to do what he loves no matter what. The film could have maybe trimmed a little fat around the edges, keeping the pacing and timing a bit tighter, but otherwise this is exactly what I want from this kind of picture. Favreau injects a great deal of passion into the film and it shows on screen, making for a sweet and highly enjoyable trip through the culinary world.
Favreau has certainly never stretched too much as an actor, but he’s very good at what he does and here he’s as endearing as ever. That said, when he flips out on Oliver Platt’s character, it is golden; one of the best freak-outs I’ve seen on screen recently. Favreau has also made some good friends during his time in Hollywood and has assembled an impressive supporting cast to liven up the proceedings; standouts being John Leguizamo, who ends up giving one of the best performances of his career, the young Emjay Anthony, who manages to balance that fine line between cute and smart whilst never feeling like a third wheel, and Oliver Platt as probably the best depiction of a critic since Peter O’Toole’s Anton Ego in Ratatouille.
There’s not much to talk about on a technical level here, so instead I’m going to eschew tradition and devote this paragraph to talking about how good the food looks in this movie. In short: I am now very, very hungry. The way the camera lovingly gorges over the food on display here just makes your mouth water, almost like it’s teasing you. I know everyone who’s seen this movie has said the exact same thing, but it bears repeating: don’t see this movie on an empty stomach. You’ll regret it. Not much else to say but if I was working on this movie, I hope this was the stuff they had at craft services.
Chef is a simple but well-crafted and lovingly made dish of a film. I love a good movie about following your passions without worrying about what anyone else thinks, and this is the best film in that vein I’ve seen in quite a while. It can feel a little self-indulgent at points, with the overlong runtime and occasionally invasive subtext, but they’re gripes I can forgive. Much like Chef Casper himself, Jon Favreau has gone back to making the kind of movies he loves and I graciously encourage him to continue his career with this amount of honesty and passion.
FINAL VERDICT: 8.5/10