Writer/Director/Actor Jon Favreau certainly has a knack for creating whimsically hilarious movies. He does a better job at films like Swingers and Iron Man than he is with Cowboys & Aliens. But perhaps, that’s because some titles are more ready-made for mass appeal than others. His latest film, Chef, cooks up a delightful tale about Carl Casper (Favreau), a renowned Los Angeles chef who prefers to create gastronomic delights over following the rules.
When he is often challenging restaurant owner Riva (Dustin Hoffman) about what to offer in every night’s top menu selection, he is eventually going to lose his job. When he blows up in front of top food critic Ramsey Michel (nicely played by Oliver Platt), he’s going to need a new line of work.
Thanks to television programs like Eat St. to show foodies where to find fantastic food, the revolution is with chefs who prefer to work their own magic through the window of a food truck. Some do not have the finances to run a proper bistro, so that’s why being portable helps. This film is making its rounds to festivals and theatres around the world to show that touring the world is a better option.
And that’s what this film builds on as Casper decides to take up serving new Cuban cuisine as he makes his way home. He’s reinventing the Cubano, a sandwich that, along with everything else Carl cooks up, looks mouth-wateringly good. It all begins with knowing how to select the right meats, grill the bun and find fresh vegetables. In this film, necessity is the mother of invention, and he tries to teach that to young Percy (EmJay Anthony), his son that he’s managed to neglect over the years. Through no fault of his own, he’s separated from his very attractive wife, Inez (Sofia Vergara), a well-to-do socialite. His resistance to give his son the attention he deserves only reveals the conflict that he is only creating for himself despite her best intentions to help him out.
Although he is asked to travel to Miami to watch over Percy while Inez works, just what father and son do together shows that they can mend fences. That’s where this film’s best heartwarming moments are. As pops takes up starting a food truck business, he finds that he also needs help. The cameo from Robert Downey Jr. is fun, but it does not add anything to the tale. Instead, the importance of Percy’s surrogate “Uncle Martin” (John Leguizamo) is required if he’s going to succeed. This movie is about partnerships that can be found at home and at work; Martin’s loyalty to Casper is important to note in Favreau’s well thought out screenplay. Martin left his job to join Carl because innovation is what motivates both of these chefs to cook.
In what the three become may seem like a story akin to Blues Brothers 2000 — what they do together as a team is a musical odyssey as they travel from Miami to Los Angeles. When they make stops in New Orleans and Texas, that’s when the tunes amps up the narrative. Anyone who enjoys Soul, Salsa and Jazz-inspired sounds will find the selection terrific.
This film effectively uses its tropes very well, especially when the Delta Blues-style number “When My Train Pulls In” by Gary Clark Jr. is playing in the background. Casper has reached the crossroads, and the next choices he makes have to be careful ones. This movie also nicely represents the best of what a father-son and road trip movie should accomplish for its narrative. For the main protagonist, his life is incomplete without his family behind him. Inez knows it, and so does Molly (Scarlett Johansson), in a less than understated role. The only problem is that Carl does not realize it. For some viewers, this movie is arriving just in time for Father’s Day.
4 Stars out of 5