Sunday, 14 September 2014

Chef (2014) Movie Review

This week, I put on my favourite set of cook's whites with a big, floppy hat, burned some water and watched Chef (2014). Written, directed and starring Jon Favreau, Chef tells the tale of Carl Casper, a former hot prospect, fine dining chef who has found himself in something of a rut. Working for Dustin Hoffman's "Riva" character, Carl feels compelled to make the same old same old dishes night in and night out. A visit from the biggest food critic on the internet has Carl wanting to try new things. Shut down by Riva, Carl gets skewered (the first of many cooking puns this review will contain, I'm afraid) by the critic and goes on something of a rampage, walking off the job in the process. His ex-wife, played by the very tasty Sofia Vergara, sets Carl up with her second ex-husband Marvin (Robert Downey Jr.) to man a food truck and travel across the country. Complicating matters is the damaged relationship Carl has with his son, Percy, played by Emjay Anthony. Percy accompanies dad across the country, learning the cooking trade in the food truck along with some valuable life lessons.

The ernestness of the film cannot be denied. Favreau really wants to send some messages here. Well, it wouldn't be me if I didn't find a few things wrong...

The pacing is difficult to work around, especially if you've seen the trailers or even the poster for the film. A lot is made out of the time Favreau and son spend in the food truck, travelling and bonding. In the film, however, it seems to take a very long time for them to get to that point. You would assume that act 1 would be the trials and tribulations that lead to Favreau getting into the truck. However it's not until at least half way through act 2, or halfway through the movie, that he manages to finally get there. The long, slow build helps to establish the two main characters (Carl and Percy), but it leaves too little time to focus on the main narrative piece of the movie. We get that Carl is a frustrated chef who wants to branch out. We also get his relationship with his son is strained because of his obsession with cooking. Get on with the plot of the movie already! 

Having said that, I'd like to point out that Favreau is fantastic in the role of Carl Casper. I won't lie, I haven't seen a lot of Favreau's acting work. After having watched this, however, I think I'll go back and check out some of his earlier stuff. You completely buy into his obsessions and his indulgences. You start out rooting for him, then thinking he's kind of a dick, then rooting for him again. It's a neat little emotional rollercoaster that he pulls off beautifully.

Unfortunately, it's a little too beautifully. Once the rigmarole is done with and he actually gets into the truck, everything goes so well and so amazingly you'd think it was some sort of dream sequence. The truck is a smash hit, thanks largely due to a seemingly simply social media campaign engineered by a 10 year old. Carl repairs his damaged relationship with his son and even manages to win back the way way wayyyyy out of his league Sofia Vergara character. He even gets his own restaurant backed by the very critic that roasted him in the first place! All of this as the result of a couple of weeks in a truck. A little more strife and struggle to help match the first half of the movie wouldn't have hurt.

Pacing and 3rd act issues aside, I liked Chef even if I didn't love it. I'm looking forward to seeing Favreau show off those acting chops more and more in the future.

3 out of 5 stars
Chef (2014)
Reviewed by The Bitter Critic on Sept 14 2014
Rating: 3

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