A chef with quite the following, quite the reputation in the culinary community, Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) has a solid job at a highly respected restaurant in Los Angeles. When he hears word that a respected food critic who backed him with a glowing review years ago is coming to the restaurant, Carl plans a unique, innovative menu that differs from the everyday menu. That's the plan at least. The owner insists otherwise, the critics rips apart the blase food, and Carl gets fired when he explodes at the critic a few days later, an explosion that goes viral. Now with no job and no money, Carl must figure out what's next for him. That viral video has all but doomed any jobs he could get, but his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara) brings up an idea she's brought up before only to get shot down. What if Carl got back to basics and opened up a food truck? The respected chef wants nothing to do with it at first but he also doesn't have a ton of other options...
More and more, I've found my mood is impacting my movie-going experience more than I thought. Now, a good movie is a good movie, but this very likable family comedy/drama hit all the right notes for me. Favreau wrote, directed and starred in this flick from last year that capitalizes on all the food buzz wherever you turn, assembling a familiar but always enjoyable screenplay, an impressive cast, and a feel-good story that's just missing too often when it comes to flicks hitting theaters every week. It isn't an instant classic, but I watched Chef and something resonated with me. Hopefully it does with you too, regardless of your feelings about food and eating.
I've always liked Jon Favreau dating back to his guest starring days on Friends to his directing the Iron Man flicks and a whole bunch of stuff in between. His Carl Casper character is definitely an interesting one, a once rising chef who's kinda leveled off through no fault of his own. A middle-aged man having a midlife crisis is nothing new in basically any form of film, television and literature, but like the film as a whole, there's an energy Favreau brings to the part. He's not perfect, trying to balance his career while still being a good father to his 10-year old son, Percy (a very impressive Emjay Anthony), who wants nothing more than to hang out with his dad. Sure, it can be a tad sugary sweet at times, but if you like the characters and are rooting for them, does it matter? Credit to Favreau though, keeping a lot of plates -- writing, directing, starring -- spinning and doing it well.
As for Favreau off-screen, his co-stars and fellow actors must like the guy. He put together quite the cast of big name stars, many of them agreeing to take a smaller part, extended cameos. But first, the bigger parts, the most essential ones. I loved John Leguizamo as Martin, Carl's longtime friend, fellow chef and a rising star in his own right. I've always been a Leguizamo fan but he just looks to be having a lot of fun and it shows throughout. Vergara too is excellent in toned down role from what we see on ABC's Modern Family. As Carl's ex-wife, she avoids any shrill ex stereotypes (thankfully), Vergara doing a fine job in the part.
Also look for Bobby Cannavale as Tony, Carl's sous chef, Scarlett Johansson as the restaurant hostess and quasi-girlfriend, Dustin Hoffman as the stuck in his ways restaurant owner, Oliver Platt as the food critic with a way with a dig, Amy Sedaris as an agent/publicist trying to help Carl, and an actor named Robert Downey Jr. as a possible business partner for Carl with a link to his past.
This isn't an out and out comedy. It's a family drama with a lot of laughs. I genuinely laughed out loud far more than I thought I would. 'Chef' has some fun early as Carl is introduced to the world of Twitter through Percy, through all sorts of social media that can be good and bad. That all adds a nice dimension to the story in its second half as Carl and Percy with some help from Martin open up a food truck in Miami and road trip it across America back to Los Angeles. It's cool to see a pleasant, nice, funny and very enjoyable movie that features a fun Latino and Cuban-themed soundtrack. Definitely one worth picking up. Just beware. I don't recommend watching this movie on an empty stomach. It's a delicious flick.
Chef (2014): *** 1/2 /****