Director: Jon Favreau
Major Players: Jon Favreau, Robert Downey Jnr, Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman
Out Of Five: 4
If only I could salsa ….. I would have sashayed all the way to Waterloo after seeing Jon Favreau’s Chef! As it was, I was just grateful I’d eaten beforehand, otherwise I would have sunk my teeth into anything looking remotely appetising.
Favreau’s latest outing sees him as not only director, but star, writer and producer as well – literally the Head Chef of this production – and he tucks into it all with relish. And after that, I’ll try to resist the food puns!
Carl Casper (Favreau) has hit the big time at a fashionable L A eatery, but the combination of unfavourable review from a popular restaurant blogger and a showdown with the restaurant’s control-freak owner puts him out of a job. So he takes on a food truck to get back his passion for food and, at the same time, try to re-build his relationship with his wife and his young son – who just happens to be whizz with social media.
So the bottom line is it’s a film about great food and Twitter. And Twitter must be delighted with it, as it shows the power of social media; Casper is both broken and re-made by those little blue Tweets we see flying into the air from all those mobile phones.
And the food? Oh boy, does it look wonderful! From a whole new menu to a Cubano – a fancy version of a Croque Monsieur – it look so good you can almost smell it. Favreau went to a lot of trouble learning to cook so, yes, those knife skills you see on screen are for real and he portrays Carl as a guy who puts real passion and love into his art. He cooks like he can’t help it.
There is, of course, more to the story than food and Twitter. There’s the sub-plot about his broken marriage and his distant relationship with his ten year old son, Percy (Emjay Athony). And, big man though he is, he’s also clearly punching above his substantial weight with his estranged wife Inez (Sofia Vergara). He knows he’s not been a great husband or father but food always seems to get in the way, so taking Percy on a road trip in the new food truck sets up the opportunity for the boy to learn to cook and for some father and son bonding. Oh, yes, and for Percy to demonstrate his Tweeting skills.
While it’s very much Favreau’s film, he’s lined up a handful of big names in small but key roles. There’s Dustin Hoffman as the restaurant owner from hell and Scarlett Johansson as his front-of-house manager who has a soft spot for Carl, but they both know it’s going nowhere. Best of all, though, is Robert Downey Junior, who has a one-scene cameo as Inez’s first husband, the brains behind the food truck idea. His mind seamlessly flits from one thing to another and takes some keeping up with. It’s sheer comedy gold. The supporting cast also includes John Leguizamo as Carl’s sidekick, looking remarkably like James Franco, and Bobby Cannavale (last seen in Blue Jasmine) is on great form as the unreliable sous-chef at the restaurant.
Cooking isn’t made to look glamorous here: in the restaurant it’s high pressure, hot and sweaty and spiced up with plenty of blue banter. The banter is toned down in the food truck – mainly because of Percy – where it’s cramped, relentless and yet works as smoothly as a well-oiled Cubano. You almost want to share one of those ice cold beers they share at the end of a session. They hardly touch the sides. And if you learn one thing from the film, it’s a rather novel use for cornflour (or corn starch, as the Americans call it). It doesn’t come from Mary Berry.
Chef is undoubtedly big hearted and soft centred, but it also has a nicely crunchy and often spicy crust. By the end of the film, Carl’s where he wants to be and has got back the things that matter to him. Well, he kinda had to, because this isn’t the sort of film that would’ve finished with a sad ending. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Chef goes on national release this Friday, 27 June, with previews on the 25th and 26th.