Director: Jon Favreau
Screenplay: Jon Favreau
Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sofía Vergara, Dustin Hoffman, Oliver Platt, John Leguizamo
Synopsis is here
When I worked at a multiplex, a peculiar thing happened during the release of the first Fast & Furious film. The moment all the track suit decked, boy racing audience left the cinema, a distinct rev of engines could be heard, while the smell of burnt tires filled the air. We were always surprised that we didn't witness any accidents. The Fast and The Furious is not high art, but the effect on its core audience appeared more profound than many of the more obscure, artier features I frequent. Now, after watching Jon Favreau's Chef. I found myself producing this calorie drenched monstrosity at 11pm at night:
Chef does spend some of its time balancing precariously between a film about an artist being an artist and not wanting to be too damning about its real subject. While its notes on criticism and how it affects a person's work and family life are much more mature than Lady in the Water (2006), it doesn't beat the deft commentary delivered by Pixar's Ratatouille (2007). This doesn't mean that Chef isn't being honest with itself, despite needlessly shoving Robert Downley Jr and Scarlet Johansson into roles due to being work colleagues with the director.
The fact is, to expect Favreau to merely distill every aspect of his filmmaking to a late 90's indie, is naïve. Scarlet Johansson and Sofía Vergara are somewhat smugly cast as love interests for the now more portly Favreau (still a genuinely likable screen presence), but this was the slubby actor who had himself swing dancing with Heather Graham in a script he had written. The film's outward narrative tension isn't particularly strong, yet like Swingers (1996), a film about a man looking inside himself once more to get back on the horse, Chef works because the characters have such an affectionate and easy going sense of charm, that they're hard not to like. It's interesting to see that in terms of structure, humour and general sensibility, when the budget drops, Favreau hasn't really changed, despite some thematic flaws. What he delivers is a light and enjoyable comedy with wholesome characters and a cast that's game. Yes, it's a thinly veiled chance to show off a catchy soundtrack and gorgeous street food (Favreau refitted his kitchen after filming), but Chef at its heart of hearts is a sincere attempt to leave you feeling fuzzy. Chef doesn't have the barbs to put it on the level with the likes of The Player (1992), but there was enough in there to make me bring out the pots and pans and indulge in a little passion.