You’re writer/director/actor Jon Favreau. You’ve been making big-budget films, mostly huge blockbuster successes (“Elf,” “Iron Man”), but also a big-budget bust (Cowboys & Aliens, which I liked). This might put you in mind of a simpler, more satisfyingly creative time (Favreau wrote the indie smash “Swingers” and wrote and directed “Made”). And that might inspire a movie like “Chef,” with Favreau as writer. director, and star and a small-scale story with, thanks to his connections, a big-scale cast, about an artist who, like a movie director, creates the kind of art that must be appreciated by others to be satisfying. And director Jon Favreau brings the same loving care to the creations made by his character that the chef does himself. This movie will be on lists of “Great Food Films” forever, along with classics like “Big Night” and “Babette’s Feast.” The food is so lusciously photographed you can almost smell it. And the music perfectly matches the food, sensual and spicy. This is an utterly delectable treat.
No surprise — it is about a guy who has a big-time, high pressure job, loses his mojo, his inspiration and his sense of creativity, and then finds it again in a smaller venue. The job is in the title. Favreau plays Carl, a passionate chef at a high-end restaurant, frustrated because the owner (Dustin Hoffman) wants him to stick to his “greatest hits,” the solid, reliable favorites that Carl now finds boring. “You remember what happened when you put guts on the menu?” When an influential restaurant critic gives him a bad review, Carl quits in a fury. Then, in an even bigger fury, he tweets what he thinks is a private response to the critic (he is not sure of the difference between Twitter and email). It goes viral. (“You’re trending, bro.”) Carl goes into a shame spiral fueled by self-pity and blame, both self and everyone else.
Carl’s passion for his job led to the end of his marriage to Inez (Sofia Vergara). He is a devoted but harried father to Percy (Emjay Anthony), a young social media expert who enjoys the fun activities his dad plans for them when he has time but wishes they could just plain hang out more. Inez, wanting to get Carl out of his funk, invites him to come with her on a business trip to Miami, so he can watch Percy. It will get him away from the Twitterverse gaffe of the day crowd and give him some time with his son. She also has another plan. Her previous ex-husband (a movie-stealing performance by the scene-stealing master thief and “Iron Man” star Robert Downey, Jr.), who gives Carl a food truck. Well, apparently there is a food truck there underneath the layers of grime and fry oil. Joined by a friend (John Leguizamo) and Percy, they drive the truck back home to Los Angeles, stopping along the way to feed the people who have been following Percy’s social media updates.
There are no surprises in the story, and there is not one female character with any reason to exist other than supporting/adoring Carl, but the characters feel genuine and the food is mesmerizingly luscious. Favreau has his mojo back, and I hope he will keep ours going by serving us food truck movies along with his five star restaurants.
Parents should know that this movie includes very strong and crude language and some vulgar references.
Family discussion: What is your favorite meal to cook? Why was it hard for Carl to just hang out with Percy before the food truck?
If you like this, try: “Big Night” and “No Reservations”