Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Chef (2014)

It’s been very exciting to watch Jon Favreau go from the up-and-coming indie director behind Swingers to a director that studios were willing to take a chance on and who would put out (mostly) quality mainstream stuff, like Elf and Iron Man. But with Chef, Favreau goes back to his indie roots, and this movie is a gosh-darn delight.

Favreau plays Carl Casper, a famous professional chef, who’s in a creative rut. This is largely because his boss, the owner of the restaurant where he works, only wants him to cook “safe” menus full of food that everyone knows and likes. But then again, Carl also chooses to stay there, so it’s at least partially his own fault. A well-known food blogger, played by Oliver Babish Platt, visits the restaurant and writes a scathing review, lamenting that this once visionary chef has lowered himself to cooking forgettable, uninspiring dishes that are not worth the exorbitant price the restaurant charges. Only he says it with a lot more meanness. And makes fun of Carl’s weight. Carl is outraged, and after his ten-year-old son teaches him how to use Twitter, gets into a flame war with the guy and basically becomes a meme. His ex-wife, who he is still close with, has been urging him to get a food truck, but he feels that’s beneath him. Until his internet infamy, that is. After getting a truck and fixing it up, he spends the summer driving across the country in it with his son and a guy who used to work for him, testing out the menu and trying new things in each new city — South Beach, New Orleans, Austin (I nearly screamed when Franklin BBQ got a huge cameo).

This is a lovely little movie about friendship, family, and creativity. I kept bracing myself for the obligatory end-of-act-2 Horrible Thing to happen, but it’s just ... nice. And positive. Which I guess makes some critics think it’s hollow, but I disagree. I love how it celebrates social media and what a huge impact that lets Carl’s son have on the business. I also just love the kid who plays his son, because he’s believable without being one of those creepy too-old-for-their-years child actors. The movie has tons of food porn, and you will probably immediately be looking for a place that sells Cubanos (Cuban sandwiches). It also has a lovely soundtrack, which is going on heavy rotation on my iPod for the summer.

It’s been out for a while, but if it’s still playing wherever you are, I highly recommend it.