Within the last several years, director Jon Favreau has gone down the big-budget directorial route. He kicked off Phase One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the critically acclaimed film Iron Man. He then followed that up with its sequel Iron Man 2 two years later. A year after that he stepped away from superheroes to take on the genre-bending western/sci-fi crossover Cowboys & Aliens. Now Favreau has stepped down from his action films for a low-key character piece in Chef.
If you’ve seen Ang Lee’s brilliant film Eat Drink Man Woman, then Chef is the perfect American companion piece to it. Favreau effortlessly directs a stellar cast of fantastic actors in a tantalizing and succulent dish of the most amazing food porn you’ll ever see on screen. Do you watch any of those reality food shows because you want to learn how to cook, as well as cry at the most delicious looking meals ever? Then Chef is irrefutably the movie for you.
Having worked many years in the industry, Favreau has managed to assemble a fantastic cast of well-known and well-respected actors to populate his film. Bobby Canavale and John Leguizamo exude plenty of charm and charisma as his kitchen staff. Scarlett Johansson wonderfully offers sage advice and Dustin Hoffman plays a great jerk of a boss. Oliver Platt is delightful as the pretentious food critic and Robert Downey Jr. is delightful as the pretentious ex-husband of Favreau’s ex-wife Sofia Vergara.
The best part of the film hands down is that of the heartwarming bond between father and son. While the film is stylistically focused on the food, with an awful lot of panache I might add, Favreau wisely never lets the food take over the story, which he also wrote. He still keeps it squarely focused on the entirely believable relationship between himself and his onscreen son. Favreau effortlessly handles what easily could have felt like cloying sentimentality in the hands of a lesser-skilled director here in the director’s chair.
If smaller and more character-based films are your speed, then do yourself a favour and go see Chef as soon as possible. In fact do your friends a favour as well and invite them along. Not a single member of your party will regret the experience in the slightest. You’d be wise to do so before letting it fall through the summer tent-pole cracks. Chef needs to be experienced, because it’s a smaller summer film with a quieter voice that deserves to be heard. There’s just one thing you must do before watching the film. Don’t go on an empty stomach.
By Philip Clarke