Chef (Open Road Films, R)

film chef smChef is a pleasant, enjoyable, and often funny film, but at the same time you can probably do better with your moviegoing dollar.

 

 

film chef

Though he’s proven surprisingly adept at directing big Hollywood tentpole films (Iron Man 1 and 2), Jon Favreau first came to attention for his work in American independent cinema: He wrote and starred in 1996’s Swingers, and wrote, directed, and starred in 2001’s Made. Though I like his Hollywood work, I welcome Favreau’s return to more small-budgeted fare with Chef, which showed to some acclaim at the South by Southwest Film Festival earlier this year. It doesn’t hurt that Favreau has kept in contact with his Iron Man buddies, and as such, Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johansson turn up in supporting roles in Chef; you get the best of both Favreau worlds here.

The Favs plays the titular character, a once-hot chef who has settled for a job in someone else’s kitchen (Dustin Hoffman as restaurateur Riva, frustrating in the exact way that bosses often are). At the beginning of the film, this restaurant is visited by influential food blogger Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt), a man instrumental in Favreau’s Carl Casper becoming a hot chef in the first place. Of course, Michel tears Casper’s new digs apart, which starts a feud between the two and spurs something like a meltdown on Casper’s part. Most of Chef’s bloated 115-minute runtime is devoted to Casper trying to regain his footing after being publicly humiliated by Michel (and by himself).

Chef is a pleasant, enjoyable, and often funny film, but at the same time you can probably do better with your moviegoing dollar. Aside from being hugely predictable, there are some areas where Chef falls short. While it’s always a pleasure to watch people cook (who would think that would be as cinematic as it is?), the food in the recent film The Lunchbox looks better than the food in Chef, so if you’re going to celebrate food you’d be better off with that sweet film. Also, one of the most conspicuous flaws of Chef is how dated it already feels—it feels like it should have come out five years or so ago. Casper seems befuddled by what Twitter is and how it works, so the film is constantly explaining to him (and secondarily to us, as if we didn’t already know) what it is and how one uses it. Perhaps worse, Casper doesn’t even really seem to understand how text messages work. Fine, okay, you can argue that many people in the world still are in the same boat with Casper on this stuff, but they’re uniformly older than he is. It also seems like the only person in Chef who does understand this stuff is Casper’s young son Percy (Emjay Anthony). Meanwhile, Chef fails the Bechdel test pretty noticeably in that it features only two female characters of any remote substance—Scarlett Johansson as the hostess Molly and Sofía Vergara as Casper’s ex-wife Inez—and somehow they’re both eye-crossingly gorgeous women who seem to be willing to have sex with the shlubby, down-on-his-luck Casper.

The good thing about Chef is that it’s fairly transparent. You can probably guess by a short plot synopsis whether you’ll like it or not, and your guess will probably be correct. While I’m happy to have Favreau back in the independent fold, and like that he’s kept some of his big Hollywood connections, it’s hard not to hope that his next project will be a little better. All the same, Chef should be plenty to hold us over until his next project comes. | Pete Timmermann

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