REVIEW: Chef

13 07 2014

Summer 2014 might host the documentary “Life Itself” that exalts critics, yet it also boasts Jon Favreau’s “Chef” that tears them down.  In the film, director Jon Favreau steps in front of the camera as Carl Casper, a chef whose meteoric rise in the culinary world has coasted to a plateau preparing dishes for the elite by the time we meet up with him.  Critics help build his reputation, but they are also apparently responsible for tearing it down.

Forced by his boss to prepare a rather formulaic meal when an influential foodie blogger Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt) stops by and subsequently receives a write-up indicating disappointment.  In his eyes, however, Casper might as well have received a review similar to that one of Guy Fieri’s restaurant penned by Pete Wells of The New York Times.  The now-notorious lambasting featured the critic mercilessly hurling rhetorical questions at the chef to the point where it seems like a personal vendetta.

Favreau bakes his opinions on the critical establishment following the roasting of his 2011 film “Cowboys & Aliens” into “Chef,” indicating an almost personal affront to the negative notices.  His attitude towards reviewers resembles that of a petulant child refusing to believe he can do anything wrong.  And despite a slapped-on ending to redeem the critics, Favreau never seems to acknowledge that he might just share a common goal with them – that of promoting and advancing a craft.

Chef

Thankfully, this bitter place from the director serves as a springboard into a more interesting place for the film.  Casper leaves behind easy money, a tired gig, controlling bosses, and a narrow-minded older audience at the restaurant for something that might allow him to reconnect with his roots.  Despite his reluctance, ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) convinces him to take a risk on a food truck so he might have all the creativity and power restored to himself.

And in a way, “Chef” is the food truck for Favreau’s career, a respite from being a cog in the studio blockbuster-industrial complex.  The film finds him getting back in touch with the real foundations of good cinema, such as rich characters and an engaging plot.  He also feels very in touch with culture, really capturing the hipster foodie scene that has resurrected the food truck from obscurity.

Favreau smartly doesn’t ignore the role of social media in this resurgence, and he captures the film with the aesthetic of Instagram food porn.  This desire to make “Chef” feel of the times, though, has already dated the film: the now virtually obsolete video looping app Vine features prominently.  Not to mention, Favreau’s eager embrace of the digital also makes the film essentially a billboard for Twitter.

The food truck would be more than enough for “Chef” to feed its audience, but Favreau insists on more for whatever reason.  In the second half of the film, he inexplicably pivots towards a more conventional father-son bonding tale.  This causes it to lose a bit of steam as it shifts focus entirely, though it’s always a light, breezy watch no matter what.  It might be a little bit more delicious to look at, however, than it is to mentally process.  B2halfstars

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