There is always a big deal made when someone goes back to their roots, especially for people involved in the creative aspect of the movie industry. Jon Favreau is a case in point. Alongside Vince Vaughn, he came to the attention of the public as the creative force behind the cult favourite Swingers. His career took off as a director and actor from that point, culminating in taking the director’s chair for Iron Man, the film that ignited interest in the phase one of the Marvel cinematic universe. So where does he go from there? The answer is to go small, simple and (kind of) basic with his new film, Chef.
Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) is a top class chef with a set of problems. He is under pressure. He is living in a small and dingy apartment. He is divorced from his wife Inez (Sophie Vergara) and barely sees his ten year old son Percy (Emjay Anthony). At work, things are no better. A top food critic is coming to review his food and he is at loggerheads with the restaurant owner as to what to serve him. The owner wants the ‘greatest hits’ while Carl feels the need to showcase his newer creations. Of course, it does not go well with the fallout from the poor review resulting in Carl confronting the critic (Oliver Platt) in the restaurant and it going viral. This ends with Carl losing his job and his reputation. At the request of his wife, he takes a trip to Miami with her and his boy as the sitter. There he is talked into buying a food truck. With his son in tow, he takes the truck on a road trip to develop his ideas.
This isn’t going to win Favreau any prizes for originality, but his film does work very well. The main characters are all given enough screen time to establish and engage. The principal character of Carl is well drawn so that he is more than a caricature of a real life celebrity chef. He is found to be all too human in his interactions with his staff, his wife and especially his son. It doesn’t come across as forced and reveals a depth to the character that in other hands could have been overlooked or even cut from the final film.
A word of warning. Do not watch this film on an empty stomach. The preparation and execution of the dishes are shown in detail and the resultant fare looks pretty damn good. In other reviews it has been described as food porn and I cannot really disagree with this assessment.
Favreau’s idea of going back to basics is slightly different to most people. You only have to consider the supporting cast to see this. In relatively minor roles, he can get Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson and Dustin Hoffman. What they lend to the film is their experience and acting talent. It adds an extra dimension to the film when these actors pop up almost unexpectedly.
A special note should be given to the soundtrack of the movie. The music choices are picked carefully to accent the scenes they underpin with themed pieces for each stage of the road trip and authentic Cuban music interspersed. It is worth tracking down the soundtrack as it stands up very well as an album in its own right.
Overall a very well made, smallish film by Jon Favreau which hopefully will lead to more of the same. Recommended.