Monday, August 11, 2014

Chef (2014)

Director: Jon Favreau

Chef is in no way a bad film, but let's call it what it is - a puff movie for foodies.

It's good because it does what it sets out to do very well. It uses film to illustrate a character - in this case Carl Casper's (Jon Favreau) passion for cooking, and how he uses this passion to overcome various obstacles in his life. He wants to be culinarily creative, but has to overcome his conservative and restricting boss. He wants to be a better father, but has to overcome his obsession with his profession. He wants to one-up a vicious food critic, but must overcome his other frustrations to do so.

And so food is the center around which the vortex of Carl's life spins. With food at the heart of nearly everything in this movie, you can predict one of the cinematic strengths - food porn. There are countless shots of mouth-watering ingredients purchased, chopped, prepped, cooked, and presented from the start to the finish of the film. Unabashed foodies will probably experience multiple orgasms over this endless parade of edible art. As for me, I certainly appreciated it to a point, but it ultimately turned the movie a little less into a film story and more of a high-quality photo love letter to expertly constructed meals.

Carl (middle) laughs it up with his staff. This still shot
conveys the tone of much of the picture.
The story itself does very little that is risky or edgy, aside from the occasionally blue language. True to the real restaurant world, many of those in the business are free and easy with their profanity. For mature viewers, this is where most of the humor lies. Truthfully, though, most of the jokes are very tame and uninspired. I got a chuckle here and there from Favreau and John Leguizamo's interactions, and Robert Downey Jr. has a memorable appearance (that guy simply doesn't miss these days), but I kept waiting for things to get funnier. After about 45 minutes, I gave up and just accepted that they wouldn't induce more than the occasional wry smile.

The film is basically all hunky dory: Carl's ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) is an inexplicably rich and endlessly understanding supporter; his son Percy is a slightly moody but phenomenally reasonable young boy; and his friends have undying loyalty and snappy dialogue to spare. Even the one ugly episode in the film - the confrontation between Carl and his caustic critic - has a resolution that is so rosy that's it is nearly gag-inducing.

This was one of those movies that both my wife and I came out of and quickly deemed "average." It never misses a step, but then again, it never dares to step off of a safe path. It's certainly not a waste of time, but neither is it a film that demands a second viewing. Actually, far stronger food-based humor can be found in nearly any episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations or Parts Unknown.