In the new, engaging comedy Chef, writer/director/actor Jon Favreau plays Carl Casper, a first-class chef who publicly loses his temper with a food critic after a negative review and discovers to his horror there’s a video of the event posted and shared all over the Internet. “You sit, you eat and you vomit the words back!” the chef exclaims to the startled critic (Oliver Platt) in front of everyone in the swanky, LA restaurant.
To make matters worse, Chef Casper has his son sign him up with a Twitter account so that he can write an insulting response to the food critic’s on-line review only to discover that what was supposed to be a private message was actually sent by mistake to everyone in their thousands.
Divorced, almost penniless and now without a job, Casper is at a loss as to what to do next. “You’re never going to be happy cooking for someone else,” his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara) tells him and plants the idea of maybe working for himself in, of all things, a food truck.
Like the traveling food truck that Casper will eventually inhabit, Chef bounces along at such a snappy pace from the get-go, supported by a continuously upbeat soundtrack with that Miami Sound Machine flavored percussive rhythm, you can’t help but allow yourself to be swept up and carried along on the journey. Even though the film has garnered an ‘R’ rating it’s actually surprisingly clean and family-friendly. Occasionally a colorful expletive is dropped here or there, but generally the language is used for comic effect and sparingly; regular dialog is f-bomb free. Unless I missed something, in this case, an ‘R’ may be a little extreme.
Favreau has obviously pulled in some favors to help make his comedy click. ‘A’ listers turn in up in small, supporting roles. Dustin Hoffman plays Riva, the restaurant owner who demands that Casper serve the same menu he’s been serving for ten years. “Play your hits,” the owner demands, a move that eventually contributes to the chef’s exit. Scarlett Johansson is Molly, the dark-haired, tattooed restaurant hostess who occasionally enjoys a late night, private dish with Casper. Robert Downey Jr. appears as Marvin, the other ex-husband to Casper’s ex-wife. Their initial exchange when they first meet up in Marvin’s office is hilarious; you’re not quite sure what Marvin is talking about – and neither does the chef – but the rapid-fire exchange sounds funny, all the same. There’s also an appearance from Amy Sedaris as a publicist in a very funny exchange delivered over the phone, plus the already-mentioned Oliver Platt who does wonders in two small scenes that make you wish you saw him more often. It’s also good to see John Leguizamo in a role that allows him to be the uncomplicated best friend/nice guy for a change.
Chef takes on several themes in addition to the impact of social media. There’s family, the need to be with others, the balance of work with home life, not to mention the fear and challenge of working for yourself after being under someone else’s protective umbrella for most of the time, and what it means to be an attentive father. “Sorry I’m late,” Casper tells his son when picking him up for some quality father/son time. “I’m used to it,” his son replies.
There’s a wonderful feeling of optimism throughout that blankets you in a warm, comforting feeling. It leaves you with that same sense of satisfaction you get after finishing an extraordinarily well prepared meal, not to mention how much fun it is to be in the company of all these characters for just a short while. Chef turns out to be one of the most entertaining films of the year so far, but be warned: don’t go in hungry – there are moments that will leave you salivating. You won’t survive.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 115 Minutes Overall Rating: 8 (out of 10)