‘Chef’ Review: All These Disaster Movies Are Making Me Crazy

Posted in The Screening Room by - March 18, 2015

This month was our Disaster Movie Marathon and honestly, I had to break up the monotony of bad script-writing and horrible acting. Chef is exactly what I needed movie-wise to free me from the bonds of the overbearing disaster movie dreck that has made this month such a nightmare. It is not only a return to form for Jon Favreau in regards to not only characters and plot but also total food porn in the best way. Many movies that feature chefs as the main characters don’t do the on-screen food justice, but Chef accentuates the food, making it a star of the film in its own right.

The film follows Chef Carl Casper who, after having a public falling out with an online food blogger, goes back to Miami to restart his career with a food truck. Along the way, he reconnects with his ex-wife and estranged son, as well as rediscovering his love of good food no matter where it comes from. The food truck trend is a timely topic and Favreau approaches it in an interesting way with a disgraced chef taking up the helm of a truck. Favreau has recently directed large budget films such as Iron Man and Cowboys & Aliens, so it’s refreshing to see Favreau return to his roots directing a smaller film. It may or may not be intentionally like his on-screen character.

While Favreau has cast himself perfectly as the main role of Carl Casper, which often isn’t the case when a director casts himself in his own film. Not only does he pull double duty as actor and director, but Favreau consulted with Roy Choi, one of the fathers of the food truck movement, in order to make sure that the film was accurate from the cooking side. Favreau makes a point to show himself and the other actors in the film executing impressive knife skills along with putting together complex dishes. Any time an actor has to do any sort of additional training for a role it is always an impressive feat and lends credibility to the film as a whole. 

John Leguizamo and Emjay Anthony round out the main cast. Leguizamo, who has had a career resurgence of late, is one of the best parts of the film. He plays Martin, Favreau’s best friend, who serves as Favreau’s sous chef at the restaurant and the food truck. I enjoyed the on-screen relationship between him and Favreau, and it was probably my second favorite part of the film. Emjay Anthony is also fantastic as Favreau’s son who feels under-appreciated by his busy father. While I’m not the biggest fan of children in movies, Anthony is fantastic in the film. He doesn’t play the typical kid, instead bringing a level of sincerity and maturity to the role that is uncommon with child actors. He’s definitely a child actor to watch moving forward. 

Along with the main cast, there is a veritable cavalcade of big name actors in the film who all play bit parts. Some films try to overload their cast with big name celebrities to draw in additional viewers, wasting their acting talents in favor of name recognition. Chef puts each of the big name talents to good use with Dustin Hoffman playing the neurotic controlling restaurant owner quite well and Robert Downey Jr being himself as Favreau’s ex-wife’s ex-husband. They both work well as their respective characters and aren’t distracting from the main story, which also tends to be the case with similar cameos. The cameo that I enjoyed the most was Scarlett Johansson, who plays the hostess at the restaurant that Favreau gets fired from. While I’m admittedly not the biggest fan of Johansson, she is believable and actually quite stunning in her brief role in the film.

As an admitted foodie, it was nice to see the food in the movie elevated and taken seriously. Most of the dishes cooked on-screen look absolutely delicious, especially the Cubano sandwiches that the “El Jefe” food truck made. Many movies about chefs neglect the food but Chef makes it a major part of the film, going as far as to set scenes of the film in iconic restaurants. In Miami, they visit the Versailles restaurant, which is a bastion for traditional Cuban food, and in Texas they visit the world-famous Franklin Barbecue. Being from Texas, it was quite humorous to not only see Franklin without a three hour line, but also Favreau’s character got to eat BBQ with the man himself, Aaron Franklin. If only everyone was so lucky as to be able to just walk up to the counter unfettered and pick up four whole briskets. 

Chef is a fantastic film even if you’re not a foodie. It features some memorable performances from every member of the cast and tells a timely story about food culture. It’s a fantastic return to form for Favreau and hopefully he continues to make more movies in the vein Chef in the future and less big budget spectacles. If you’re looking for a film that will not only make you hungry but also make you laugh, then check out Chef. 

Final Say: Watch It

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Chris Stachiw is the Editor-in-Chief and co-host of the Kulturecast. He’s a native Californian with a penchant for sarcasm and a taste for the cinematic bizarre. You’ll often find him wandering the wasteland of Nebraska searching for the meaning of life and possibly another rare Pokemon.

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