Oct 13, 2014

[Movies] Chef (2014)

The feel-good movie related to food and/or cooking has sort of become a safe movie genre over the years. And while there aren't a whole lot of movies like this, it seems one is bound to come out every few years and it hits that sweet spot (pun not intended) of a movie that appeals to a wider audience, rakes in decent money but never really gains tremendous popularity.

Chef is the latest movie to sort of fulfill this niche, and one that actually tried to avoid having a romantic comedy as its core narrative framework. Let's face it, we've seen too many movies about people in the food industry falling in love with one another. And it's refreshing to encounter a movie that tried to go in a different direction to a limited extent.

This is also the movie that tries to be timely by tackling current technology. In this case, the movie centers around social media for the most part - in particular Twitter. And a lot of times I feel that we tend to stumble around how to handle technology and its effects on human interaction, but in this case the involvement of Twitter wasn't too far off the mark.

And I'll admit, I rather enjoyed the whole thing.

Synopsis: Chef is a 2014 comedy drama movie written, produced, and directed by Jon Favreau. Chef Roy Choi served as co-producer for this endeavor and also made sure the cooking done in the movie was pretty much legitimate.

Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) is the head chef at a Los Angeles restaurant owned by Riva (Dustin Hoffman). He's clearly very passionate about his craft, but naturally Riva just wants him to serve dishes that are already popular with the customers. Things come to a head when a renowned food critic and blogger Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt) and Casper gets into a disagreement with Riva over what to cook. He finally gives way to Riva and prepares a menu of the house favorites, which is negatively received by the critic. Casper does not receive this feedback well and goes as far as challenging Michel to a "rematch" via a public Twitter response (since he was relatively new to the medium).

But when the confrontation comes up, Riva intervenes once more and Casper quits in frustration. But things don't go peacefully since Casper decides to confront the critic directly at the restaurant, much to the delight of everyone there. This leaves Casper a bit of a social media celebrity, but still out of work. Eventually his ex-wife Inez (Sophia Vergara) encourages him to take a trip down to Miami in order to watch over their son, Percy (Emjay Anthony). Once there, he finds himself reconnecting with Cuban cuisine and eventually getting talked into a food truck deal, once again due to Inez.

The initial conflict between the chef and the restaurant owner is a bit of a classic one - or at least for those who take the time to read books like Kitchen Confidential or something. But to be fair, we tend to gloss over this in many movie depictions of chefs and instead focus on them falling in love in or around the kitchen. Tying all of this to the food truck craze and its reliance on social media for publicity was certainly an interesting angle to address.

It's nice to note just how passionate Favreau clearly was in terms of the desire to make a good movie. And while there were moments that things seemed a little forced, at least there was a definite commitment to get things right. And Favreau could have just depended on cutaways and close-up shots for all the cooking-related stuff, but instead he tried to learn how to do things right in front of the camera, and that was rather nice.

The movie as a whole seemed to make an effort to avoid too many tropes and cliches that such movies tend to get into. And there were a lot of options given movies about chefs, movies about strained relationships with a son within the context of a divorced marriage, and of course the whole looking for a new path in life after a career crisis. There were a few moments when I thought I was pretty clear on what was going to happen next, and then the movie would sort of fake left and then go on a completely different path.

Great cameo right there in Miami. I doubt it's a spoiler at this point, but I won't go into detail just in case. Let's just say that Favreau certainly called in a favor, and it totally worked in the context of the movie.

There are a lot of good laughs to be had in this movie, which helps balance the little soul-searching element that defines the second half of the movie. And I'm really happy with how John Leguizamo was as Martin, Casper's line cook who eventually follows him into the food truck business. He's always quite the character in the movies that he performs in and he strikes a nice balance here that the movie really needed. He's not there to make you laugh out loud, but he does provide good flavor to the whole narrative.

Chef was a nice movie - the sort of thing to watch on a Sunday afternoon to feel good about life or to perhaps consider a career change of your own. I don't know if the movie could have been better with someone other than Favreau as the lead, but I also can't think of anyone else who could fit the story. Thus the movie gets 4 delicious Cuban sandwiches out of a possible 5.

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