Friday, June 13, 2014

Chef Review

It must be said that Jon Favreau has probably has had the most unexpected career trajectory in Hollywood except for maybe Neil Patrick Harris. Who would have thought the dude who played a recurring character on Buzz Lightyear of Star Command would end up directing the best Christmas (Elf) and Superhero (Iron Man) movies of all-time? Of course, he's had his struggles, with him squaring off against Marvel Studios over the direction of Iron Man 2 and Cowboys and Aliens becoming a major financial failure.

It's pretty obvious that Favreau is putting a lot of his own frustrations into the film, with Dustin Hoffmans overbearing boss likely being an exaggerated caricature of the overlords at Marvel during Iron Man 2 (one particular phrase along the lines of "Just do what you did last time!" really hitting home the allegory), along with his tirade against a food critic likely saying a lot towards critics (like myself) that were harsh towards Cowboys and Aliens. That tirade scene by the way is the films best moment, with an insane amount of tension hanging over every character in that moment, and every word Favreau dishes out being made up of equal parts truth and fury.

Such analysis pretty much is left in those two moments, as the rest of Chef isn't that thought provoking, but thankfully is more than fun enough to compensate for that. A passion project for him, Favreau stars, playing the titular Chef Carl Casper, directs and writes this project with an interesting approach; a seemingly simple story like this needs to be told expertly in order to make sure it doesn't turn episodic and disappointing. Thankfully, the film avoids living up to those adjectives by making sure the characters are engaging enough that we want to see any sort of escapades they get themselves in. The only character that I took a while to warm up to is Favreaus kid, who starts out too bratty, but the father and son dynamic really works like aces by the end, especially in one of the final scenes of the movie that really is just astoundingly effective.

A ton of A-listers make up the ensemble cast here, though I found myself surprised at how quickly some come and go. That's good for some, such as Robert Downey Jr., who plays the smarmy ex-husband of Caspers ex-wife, who makes for a nice cameo, while some (namely Scarlett Johanssons underdeveloped character Molly) could have needed more screentime. I did love the camaraderie between Favreau, John Leguizamo and Bobby Cannavale, which felt not only natural but nicely comedic, with some exceptional lines coming out of the threes interactions.

And then there's Favreau. He actually does a super job playing Carl Casper, a dude whose vulnerability is the real world is only heightened by his confident personality in the kitchen. He does a nice job playing both sides of that character, and thankfully, the directing doesn't suffer in comparison to his sublime lead performance. Every single item in the movie looks beyond delicious and helps emphasis just why Casper finds the world of food so transfixing. I was stupid enough to go into this one on an empty stomach, though, making those sandwiches look even more appetizing than usual! All that good food plus some good acting and resonant emotional moments help make Chef a four course...nah, just kidding, even, I won't go do a food pun. But really, Chef is a well crafted movie well worth checking out.

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