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“Super nicely directed, the soundtrack is brilliant, and the locations are brilliantly chosen!”
Quite bizarrely, I saw Chef almost immediately after revisiting the brilliant but much darker Cheap Thrills with a pal. I happened to have a spare Chef ticket, which I offered up as part of the second most bizarre double-bill ever (the first one was when my parents saw Mrs. Doubtfire and Philadelphia one after the other), but was shot down, under the reasoning of ‘it’s gonna be a couple of guys slappin’ each others asses about a kitchen for 100 minutes’. Very true, but Chef is so much more than just kitchen-based ass-slappin’.
Written, directed and acted by the super talented Jon Favreau, the helmer of one of the greatest Christmas films ever, Elf, Chef tells the story of Carl Casper, a once adventurous and brave chef now working in the kitchen of a fancy Los Angeles restaurant owned by Dustin Hoffman. When a food critic insults both Casper’s cooking and his appearance, he quits his job and buys an old taco truck, taking his son and John Leguizamo along for the ride.
Chef feels like two separate movies, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The stuffy and city-based restaurant half is so enjoyable to watch that you almost forget that this is only the beginning of the story. Taking up a solid 40 minutes of the 114 minute running time, the equally entertaining ‘on the road’ second half almost feels like a coda, when it’s actually the main body of the story. Casper’s rant at Oliver Platt’s perfectly pitched food critic is hilarious and brilliantly written, but ever so slightly let down by the constant use of ‘modern’ words - ‘viral’, ‘trending’, ‘social media’. Whilst not as misguided as that may sound, my worry is that this instantly dates the film, which would work almost exactly as well without the use of these terms.
Still, the cast are excellent, even though supporting players such as the brilliant Bobby Cannavale, Dustin Hoffman, and Scarlett Johansson are criminally underused, especially since these three in particular light up the screen whenever they appear. Robert Downey Jr’s extended cameo reminded me quite how funny he can be - think Tropic Thunder and the insanely underrated Due Date.
It’s super nicely directed, the soundtrack is brilliant, and the locations they visit on their tour are all brilliantly chosen, the best being Cafe Du Monde, which as a recent visitor to New Orleans, provided a lovely but brief behind the scenes tour of how beignets are made.
Behind all of this, Chef is a movie about fatherhood and bonding, and it’s really sweet. It’s also a very rewarding movie for an audience (you’ll see what I mean in the final 10 minutes) and I really liked it.
By Preston Nyman
Preston has his own movie blog. For more from the world of film, visit http://prestondefends.tumblr.com/.