This weekend opened the summer movie season and we celebrated by going to see a small, wonderful film about the passions that drive a man’s life along with the lessons he has to learn from others. I use passion in the broadest sense. No one takes their clothes off or goes beyond a kiss because real passion in real life is so much more than just sex.
Chef is the indie film that Jon Favreau made after directing three big tentpole movies (Iron Man, Iron Man 2 and Cowboys & Aliens) in four years and it recasts some of his frustrations with studio interference by putting them in the context of a successful restaurant. To use his words via Screenrant, it “captures the conundrum of their creative process: people trying to find their voice, a way to fit within the system and yet express their individuality.”
@Jon_Favreau wrote, directed, and starred in Chef but he also brought along many of his buddies from previous outings so the film has an eye-popping all-star cast. It dropped into theaters with no marketing, no hype, no advertising, and no social media presence. (This has since been remedied.) The stealth launch is puzzling because the movie is just so darned good that I advise everyone to see it and see it fast before it’s pushed out of the multiplex by the next blockbuster to commandeer most of the screens.
Out of the Kitchen
In @Chef_Movie, the person struggling to express his individuality is Carl Casper, executive chef at a fine Los Angeles restaurant. He wants to create a bold new menu to impress a prominent food blogger (Oliver Platt) who has reservations, both real and gastronomical.
Enter interference in the form of the restaurant’s owner (Dustin Hoffman), who wants his top Chef to “play his favorites.” With his job on the line, Casper does so only to earn the scorn of, and two stars from the blogger.
His reaction, and what ensues, takes Chef Casper out of his job, out of the kitchen, away from L.A., across the country and back again. Via his next venture, the El Jefe Food Truck, Casper goes on a journey of cooking, expression, learning, parenting, and discovery. Did I mention cooking?
Note: During El Jefe Food Truck’s run through Texas, Chef Casper visits Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue. In a Chase Sapphire commercial that runs frequently on Food Network, Mr. Franklin shows Chef Nobu Matsuhisa what Texas barbecue is all about.
Along the way, Chef Casper learns some things from his friends and colleagues (Scarlett Johansson, John Leguizamo and Bobby Cannavale), some things from his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara), some things from her ex-husband (Robert Downey Jr.), and lots more from his son, Percy (the excellent Emjay Anthony). Chef Casper teaches Percy how to cook, work hard and take on responsibility. Percy teaches him the value of social media, both for good and bad, the importance of being a father, and the power of unconditional love.
A Celebration of Life
As I said before, Chef celebrates the many passions of life; all the things that make life worth the ride. First and foremost, of course, is the passion for food—buying it, preparing it, cooking it and eating it. You also get caught up in the passion for excellence and for working hard at what you love, even when it isn’t always appreciated. There’s the passion for music, for family, for friendship, for commitment, for life itself. And it is a celebration, one that picks you up, whirls you around, and sends you out of the theater feeling great.
If you like food, of course, you’ll love Chef. If you enjoy movies about taking risks and overcoming adversity, you will like this movie. If you believe in the power of love and the strength of family, you need to see this movie. If you like a good story told well, a tale that takes you along for the ride, one that makes you laugh without feeling manipulated, by all means see this movie. If you have ever had a clueless boss or been driven out of a job, you’ll want to see this movie.
And don’t wait—despite its excellence, Chef probably won’t be around long. It earned only $3,554,000 in its opening weekend, which does not augur well for an extended stay in the theaters — unless word of mouth gets around and it takes on the “legs” of breakout films like My Big Fat Greet Wedding or Mr. Holland’s Opus. So go see it and pass on the good word.
Easter Egg: Stay through the credits and you can watch Chef Roy Choi teach Jon Favreau how to cook the perfect grilled cheese sandwich.