Chef (2014) Directed by Jon Favreau. With Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale, Emjay Anthony, Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, Sofia Vergara, Oliver Platt and Robert Downey Jr.
If you like great food, Latin jazz and a smile on your face – look no further than writer-director, lead actor Jon Favreau’s Chef, a big hearted little film about a talented Los Angeles cook taking on the world with his passion for all things cuisine. In the past several years, Favreau has made a name for himself as a director of mainstream Hollywood blockbusters – playing a pivotal role in setting up the juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe with his 2008 smash hit, Iron Man. With Chef, he dials down the scale but if anything, strengthens the heartbeat with a film that is essentially about love and friendship conquering all. What’s not to like about that!?
Of course, Hollywood is a graveyard of forgettable fare about love and friendship. The idea has automatic mass appeal, but so often, the execution is either too saccharine or flimsy to genuinely register. Not so here. For starters, Favreau assembles a cast that would give the Avengers a run for their money (two of them are here) – which immediately grabs our attention. Furthermore, it is full of confidence and purpose, even though after 30 mins it’s still unclear if the plot is actually going anywhere. Such is chemistry and likeability of everyone involved, that we’re just happy to be in their company.
It is also a testament to Favreau as an actors director. The people he works with clearly love him, and he gets the absolute best out of them all. As a result, the film is piled-high with fine performances, led winningly by Favreau himself. His central character is the sort of guy you wish you knew; full of passion and drive, but without losing the humanity that can often be sacrificed at the alter of success. Through him, the film has spring in its step, the like of which I haven’t seen for a while. It is beautiful in the basic sense that it aims to lift you up and make you feel good.
John Leguizamo is also superb in a supporting role, as is young actor, Emjay Anthony – playing Favreau’s son, Percy. Their scenes together are a joy. The son-father Twitter lesson, the father-son cooking lessons. There is so much goodwill here, you’re waiting for something sad to happen, yet the film fights hard to beat back the melancholy at nearly every stage, flooding each scene with an array of upbeat music ranging from jazz to New Orleans blues.
Chef is a lot of fun. It lives as two films. One, about a man with a rare gift, shackled by the constraints of the business world. Another, a joyous road movie about setting yourself free and rediscovering your life and passion. On paper, that kind of description can sound naff, but Jon Favreau has poured a lot of love into this project and it has all come out pure. Don’t watch it on an empty stomach. 4/5