In a film that is all about an artist and his craft, you can’t help but think that writer/director/star Jon Favreau is speaking about his experience in the “big time” with his latest film. Set in Los Angeles, Miami, and everywhere in between, Favreau uses a chef and his food to illustrate what the studio system is like today in Hollywood and how he ended up getting to this feature.
Favreau plays Carl Casper, a once prosperous chef who is now divorced and struggling to regain his originality. He works for Riva (Dustin Hoffman) who wants Carl to go by the menu he put out rather than trying to do something different or new. Carl wants to do something new because food critic Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt) is coming and knows that he will not be impressed with what the menu has to offer.
Carl is right as Michel tears him a new one in his review and pushes Carl to not want to follow orders anymore or as Riva put it “just play your hits.” There is something within that phrase that Riva repeats to Carl many times that rings true with Favreau’s career. After hits like Iron Man and Elf, Favreau began to dive into other more studio driven work like his sequel to Iron Man and Cowboys and Aliens, which set him away from studio directing for awhile.
Since Cowboys and Aliens, Favreau went on to direct a few episodes of television before returning to Chef, which seems deeply personal to him. That affection for this bled through and made what was a rather cliche plot feel fresh and fun to be in. We’ve seen the father and son trying to re-connect before, the lost all hope hero looking to regain form or re-invent himself, and the reconciliation of a family broken, but what works so well for Favreau and this cast is the charisma that he and players like John Leguizamo who have a charm to them and make the story feel fresher than it really is.
Favreau is clearly an artist reaching out to the audience and playing a personal piece and I connected with that. It may be cliche and it may be overdone but in this instance and with these people involved, it felt new and it was worth watching. I feel that it is the best thing to recommend from the film because outside of Favreau’s personality, there isn’t anything really deep to touch.
Chef is a personal letter from Jon Favreau to cinema and its audience and it is lovely. The performances are great, the music is charming, and the film hardly lets you down. It may come up as cheesy and cliche at times but it has a good heart and is a sweethearted movie that deserves a shot.