Sunday 18 May 2014

Film Review: Chef

Chef is a comedy written, directed, co-produced and starring Jon Faverau - it centres on a chef (duh) called Carl Casper who leaves behind his job in Los Angeles after something of a kitchen meltdown. At a loose end, Carl has to find himself and embrace doing what he loves. Cue cooking montage!

Following on from an outburst that goes viral on Twitter, highly regarded LA chef Carl Casper finds himself going through something of a mid-life crisis. He loves cooking, but cooking the same menu for the last decade has stemmed his creative juices. Not only that, but his job has left him distanced from his ex-wife Inez (Sophia Vergara) and son Percy (Emjay Anthony). Leaving behind Los Angeles, Carl and his family head to Miami to get things back on track, and strip in back to basics.

The premise for Chef isn't one that is particularly fresh; the disgraced professional or workaholic/absent father caricature is common in dramadies such as this. At it's core, Chef feels fairly familiar, with its narrative of redemption, enjoying life and being with those you love being a well worn path. If we put this aside however, the film works really well, with Faverau cooking up a storm across the board. It might not push the envelope in originality, but it does what it does excellently.

Something that is really evident from the off in this film is the effortless and natural dialogue. The humour that it conveys feels very fluid and genuine, making the whole film a riotous tim. I found that many of the characters at a great on-screen chemistry, particularly Faverau and his sous chef Martin (John Leguizamo). Together, they were a stand-out combo. I thought that Emjay Anthony, who plays Carl's son Percy, was pretty good given that this is one of his first major roles.

Also on the bill is Scarlett Johansson as Carl's waitress Molly. Her character works mainly as a 'voice of reason', guiding Carl through his crisis. It's a small role, but a little ScarJo is better than no ScarJo. Like I mentioned in my review of Winter Soldier, Johansson is on a roll right now, and Chef is another example of her ability to genuinely add something extra to a film rather than just fade into the background.

Downey Jnr gets thrust into the mixture in a little-used cameo role - he isn't around for long (5-6 minutes, tops) but in that time, he steals the show. It was kind of cool to see him play a role other than Tony Stark, even if the characters were kind of similar (be careful Mr. Downey, don't slip into Jack Sparrow autopilot mode as Johnny Depp has). Also rounding out the cast is Dustin Hoffman as Carl's dickwad of a boss Riva.

In terms of pacing, I found that the film really found its stride during the second and third course. The opening entree sets things up nicely, but maybe took a little while to kick in. This isn't to say its bad, just that I preferred the rest of the film to the opening. The film really finds a new gear when Carl hits the road in his food truck and begins to rediscover his passion for food.

What comes across throughout every aspect of this film is Faverau's passion for the project; whether or not he is a big foodie himself in real life, he clearly has a passion for the story it's trying to tell. His direction is great, and he revels in letting the camera pour over the dozens of delectable dishes his character plays around with. Seriously, the amount of food porn in this film is ridiculous. I recommend taking some kind of napkin/bib to mop up all the drool.

The soundtrack, which is bursting with lots of up-tempo, jazzy Latin American songs, also contributes towards this sense of discovery, (mis)adventure and fun.

The Verdict: 8.5/10

Watching Chef is like eating a really fantastic meal; you just want to savour every bite. It's light, easy on the palette and bursting with zesty humour. Favreau is fantastic, not just in acting but in writing and direction as well. Mixing these ingredients with a superb cast, makes for a winning recipe. My compliments to the chef.

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