Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) is the much admired Chef at the Los Angeles eatery Gauloises, owned by hard nosed businessman Riva (Dustin Hoffman), and the father of 12 year old Percy (Emjay Anthony), ex husband of Inez (Sofia Vergara). In the wake of a disastrous visit by powerful food critic Ramsey Michael (Oliver Platt), Carl refuses to follow menu orders from X and walks out. Now jobless, he reluctantly agrees to accompany Inez and Percy to Miami to escape the bad publicity - and spend some time with his son. With modest help from Inez's first husband Marvin (Robert Downey Jr), Carl has an opportunity to start up a food truck business and Carl begins to rebuild his cooking prowess - and to start reconnecting with his family.
Review by Louise Keller:
It wasn't what I expected, but there are some unexpected pleasures in Jon Favreau's Chef - namely the road trip twist and the infectious, rhythmic Cuban music that cooks to a greater degree than the film's early culinary scenes. The fact that Robert Downey Jnr appears in a scrumptious cameo also works in its favour, coupled with the appealing presence of Scarlett Johansson and Dustin Hoffman in small roles. If I have a reservation, it is that Favreau, who wrote and directed the film, seems to have thrown every available pantry ingredient into the filmic frying pan, instead of assessing the textures and flavours and using a little discretion and restraint.
The film begins by tantalising our palates as kitchen implements chop, slice, stir and dice and we can almost smell the crispy bacon, scampi, rare beef, pasta and squab as they are dished out. The melted cheese toasted sandwich also gets a working out; this simple everyday food item has an important role to play. Granted that the establishment of Carl Casper's (Favreau) passion for cooking and the set up in the trendy, upmarket restaurant he runs for the commercially minded owner (Dustin Hoffman) is critical, there is much to convey in this first section. Additionally, we begin to understand the awkward relationship between Carl and his 10 year old social networking-savvy son Percy (Emjay Anthony), who longs to hang out with his Dad now that his parents are divorced.
When we first meet Percy's glamorous, curvaceous mother Inez (Sofía Vergara), decked out in designer wardrobe and sitting pretty in a lavish LA home, it is hard to imagine that she and the overweight, tousle-haired Carl were ever a couple. To the film's credit (as well as that of the sensual Vergara), this plot point is nicely resolved, giving credence to the notion that opposites attract and that we can never really tell about the push-pull nature of relationships.
However, this first section of the plot feels overlong as Carl is given an ultimatum by his boss to "play his hits" for the visiting revered restaurant critic & blogger (Oliver Platt) instead of allowing him to use his adventurous creative talents. (The Stones performing without Mick Jagger singing 'Satisfaction' is the effective analogy used.) The sequences involving the abusive Twitter shouting match (and the subsequent YouTube videos) between Carl and Platt's food blogger that go viral when Carl is forced to play it safe and serve up the same old menu, are overdone to the point of parody.
The film however, comes into its own as Carl goes to Miami with Inez and Percy, acquires and fixes up a food truck, and things start to hot up. There's a lovely vibe between Carl and his sous-chef, ably played by John Leguizamo, who goes on the road with Carl and Percy with enthusiasm and a warm smile. The father son relationship is nicely developed as cubanos (the authentic Cuban sandwich) and other expertly concocted menu-items are perfected. Anthony, who made his film debut in 2009's It's Complicated with Meryl Streep and Alex Baldwin, is terrific as the internet-whiz and chef in training.
There's a formulaic element to the plot which offers few surprises but the film is mostly a crowd pleaser, albeit while its title may imply a film in the vein of Eat Drink Man Woman, Mostly Martha, Woman on Top or Ratatouille, it straddles the genre encompassing its food specialist nature with themes of the father son relationship and road trip adventure. The toe-tapping, life affirming Cuban music from Perico Hernandez deserves special mention, coupled with the addition of some irresistible blues and jazz.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Food, glorious food, and music, wonderful Latino music, fill this crowd pleasing comedy which avoids the traps of fake sentimentality for the grounded joys of genuine heart. Jon Favreau makes a totally credible chef, down to his volcanic outburst at the table of LA's most feared food critic Michael Ramsey (Oliver Platt), which is caught on smart phone cameras to go viral instantly. Favreau's directing is also showcased here, controlling the scene perfectly to make sure it is explosive but not stepping into self parody.
The truth of the characters is constantly maintained, giving the film a satisfying authenticity so often missing in mainstream comedies. And if you don't buy the Favreau/Vergara relationship (he's too fat, she's too beautiful) you ain't lived. Real people are complex and often inscrutable; we all defy pigeon holing. That's one of the strengths of the screenplay: it doesn't abide by formulaic characterisations.
Delivering the terrific menu of characters is a cast of great actors, not least young Emjay Anthony as Carl's son Percy, who does more than look and act cute. Robert Downey Jr has just the one scene, playing the offbeat, edgy ex-husband, Marvin, who likes to play mind games in his ultra smooth office where everyone has to wear medical shoe covers. Scarlett Johansson has a modest role as Molly, the restaurant's as well as Carl's primary support system, who is tempted by Carl's cooking ... as well. Oliver Platt is perfectly cast as the fierce food critic and blogger, whose negative review sets off the chain reaction that brings the house down.
Dustin Hoffman is solid and real as the hard-assed restaurant owner, Riva, and Sofia Vergara is permanently on display as the gorgeous Inez. John Leguizamo makes a handy and likeable sous chef Martin, with his Spanish coming in handy in Miami, where Carl starts his food truck business making mouth watering Cuban sandwiches. (There's a business opp here for a smart operator ...)
But the film belongs to Favreau in every sense, and his father-son relationship with Percy is at the heart of the film's heart. It begins, of course, with a well written and well 'made' screenplay, with its clear structure and strong, character driven plot. It's partly predictable, of course, in that our emotional satisfaction has to be the end result, but he does it with feeling and a genuine sense of purpose in Carl's character.
Email this article
CAST: Jon Favreau, Scarlett Johnasson, John Leguizamo, Sofia Vergara, Dustin Hoffman, Bobby Cannavale, Robert Downey Jr, Emjay Anthony, Amy Sedaris, Oliver Platt, Garry Shandling,
PRODUCER: Sergei Bespalov, Jon Favreau, Karen Gilchrist, Olga Lesnova
DIRECTOR: Jon Favreau
SCRIPT: Jon Favreau
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Kramer Morgenthau
EDITOR: Robert Leighton
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Denise Pizzini
RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Studiocanal
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 8, 2014