★★★★ | Chef
Writer/director/actor Jon Favreau is back to his indie movie roots with this sparkling new comedy that he has just completed for less then $10 mil. which evidently is considered pocket money by Hollywood standards these days.
However the man who was relatively unknown when he had his breakthrough writing and starring in ‘Swingers’ back in 1996, can now count a lot of ‘A’ list stars amongst his friends and he has peppered them with some perfect cameo roles that make this new movie really so delightful.
This is the story of Carl Casper, played by Favreau, who is the Executive Chef of a highly successful fancy restaurant in LA Although it is packed every night the food is safe and boring as the Chef once renowned for his innovative and creative style of cooking has lost heart. One day word gets out that the Country’s most important food critic & blogger is due to eat there that night and Carl is determined to cook something audacious and new just like the old days. He has however not taken into consideration that the conservative Restaurant owner won’t hear of any such plan, and after a showdown with him in the kitchen, Carl backs down and serves the critic food from his tired old regular menu.
The very articulate review he writes is nothing less than damning but if this is not bad enough, news of it spreads like wildfire on Twitter. It takes Carl’s 10 year old tech-savvy son Percy to explain to his father how this, and other social media work, and as beginner Carl tries to grasp the fundamentals of it all he inadvertently sends the critic a rather nasty note that he thought was going as a private message. It was in fact very public and is the start of a vitriolic exchange of tweets between the two men that very quickly attracts thousands of followers.
It leads to an exasperated Carl publicly taunting the critic to come back and try a new menu, and with all the public attention this spat is getting, the restaurant phone is ringing off the hook and they are having to turn away reservations every minute of the day. Come the ‘re-match’ and the owner forbids Carl to cook the proposed new menu, so he angrily just storms out just minutes before the critic walks in. Faced with having to eat the same food he has already decried, the critic starts to complain via twitter whilst he is still in the restaurant, resulting in an angry Carl hot footing it back and having a screaming fit which seemingly every single diner there catches on their cellphones and puts up on YouTube.
Carl’s tantrum goes viral. He may no longer be a star chef but on the Internet he is very big news. Unable to get work and rapidly running out of money he reluctantly accepts an invitation by his ex-wife to travel with her and their son back home to Miami to visit the boy’s Cuban grandfather. She also connives for Carl to meet up with his predecessor i.e. her first husband Marvin a real sharp wheeler-dealer who provides the bemused Carl with an old Food Truck.
The Truck is in a real dilapidated state but after a touch of fairy dust and a hell of a lot of elbow grease, the van is soon shiny just like new. Thanks mainly to the fact his son Percy is there to help, and also his ex-assistant chef Martin, who hearing about the truck, packs in his job in LA and hops on a plane and turns up unannounced in Miami volunteering his services.
They start a dry run making and selling traditional cubano sandwiches on South Beach, before starting a road-trip adventure driving the truck across the country back home to California. It gives Carl a chance to get back to his roots and cook authentic food but more importantly an opportunity to bond with his son Percy for the first time since he left home. Percy’s role is not just as prep chef but also the social media expert of the group and his regular twitter feeds ensure that there are large crowds awaiting them in Austin Texas, New Orleans and all the other colorful stops they make.
This very touching tale about rediscovering oneself and having a second chance has a predictable ending but its the journey that it takes that makes it the real delight that it is. With cameos by a barely unrecognisable Scarlett Johansson as a smouldering sexy Maitre’d, Dustin Hoffman as the grumpy restaurant owner, Oliver Platt as the Critic, Bobby Cannavale as an hilarious insecure Sous Chef, Amy Sedaris as a push PR, and an hilarious scene-stealing turn by Robert Downey Jnr as Marvin the ex husband. Inez, Carl’s ex wife was played by Sofía Vergara in a quieter version of her ‘Modern Family’ role that she plays for every part she is in, and John Leguizamo was Martin the other chef. However Mr. Downey Jr wasn’t the only performance that totally charmed the audience, as 11 year old ‘veteran’ actor Emjay Anthony was completely enchanting as young Percy.
Mr Favreau has lovingly portrayed an authentic view of Miami Beach, but even more important has treated all the cooking scenes with such sheer passion and in great detail that you will literally dash out from the cinema drooling and ready to eat something delicious. It’s a wee gem of a movie.
Chef is in Theatres from the 9th May 2014 in UK and USA