Featuring: Jon Favreau (Carl Casper), Emjay Anthony (Percy), John Leguizamo (Martin), Sofia Vergara (Inez), Scarlett Johansson (Molly), Dustin Hoffman, Oliver Platt (Ramsey Michel), Robert Downey Jr (Marvin)
Director: Jon Favreau
Writer: Jon Favreau
Movie website: www.facebook.com/StudiocanalAus
Australian release date: Thursday, May 8, 2014
Verdict: Luscious! The best food flick since Babette’s Feast.
Star LA chef Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) is jaded after having to adhere to the same popular menu items for a decade at the insistence of his restaurant owner (Dustin Hoffman). When prominent food blogger Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt), who once rated him highly, ridicules his food on Twitter, he is stung into responding, resulting in a flame war flaring up between them that goes viral. Carl challenges Michel to return to the restaurant to review a new customised menu, but quits when the restaurant owner intervenes. With time on his hands, he accepts an invitation from ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) to visit Florida with their young son Percy (Emjay Anthony) during the school holidays and pursue his dream of buying a food truck and cooking the food he loves. Percy and disgruntled fellow chef Martin (John Leguizamo) join him in the venture, which is life-changing professionally and personally.
Once in a long while a movie comes along that just delights, short-circuiting critical faculties. You sit there before the screen with mouth agape, smiling idiotically from the first frame to the last, and if perchance you steal a glance along the row you note that everyone else is similarly smitten. Chef is just such a movie. So don’t expect a competent analysis. Do expect a rave.
OK, what’s so great? The food prep shots, for starters (and I’ve gotta say, the bigger the cinema screen, the better). There’s a scene in which chef Carl cooks that simple but lethally delectable classic, spaghetti with olive oil, garlic, chilli and parmesan, for waitress friend-with-benefits Molly (Scarlett Johanssen – speaking of delectable…), who lies waiting alluringly on the bed. She takes a forkful and moans involuntarily, instantly relegating other sensual pleasures to the backburner. Says it all!
The food truck fare looks magnificent. We’re talking simple takeaway items like cubanos, done to golden high-cal perfection. Hitting the road in the truck, Carl and his crew drop into various little specialist joints to chase down local specialties, such as po’boys in New Orleans. The food porn arousal level rockets off the scale when they visit a Texas barbecue wholesaler, and cut a few sample slices of darkly-encrusted medium-rare beef for tasting. Mama!
The appeal of the movie is not all about the food, though. The standout performers are Jon Favreau and Emjay Anthony (who is superb as Percy, his young son: sensitive, intelligent, endearing without laying on the cutsie stuff, completely believable). Sofie Veraga is irresistibly charismatic, and so damned stunning to look at (that arse could make or break empires!), it wouldn’t much matter how she performed, but she’s very good. In fact, all the performances are terrif. These guys seem real; there’s a vibrant sense of life pulsing through the entire film.
The story is slight but satisfying, and built around the unoriginal but always seductive idea that good things follow those who have the courage to be true to themselves, whether in the context of career or personal relationships. Materialistic values are notably absent from the mix, and a resounding yay to that.
This is not a perfect movie. Doubtless, there are flaws. But I didn’t notice them. I was too absorbed and delighted to care. If Chef is not a runaway hit at the box office, I will feel vindicated in suspecting that a large proportion of today’s legions of self-proclaimed “foodies” who gush lyrical about stuff they shove in their gobs and claim that food is their life are merely dedicated followers of fashion spouting off contemporary cliches. Or don’t bother going to the movies. Sorry, but I’m takin’ no prisoners here.
If you love food, you’ll love Chef and you’ll make it your business to see it. And take a bib to catch the drool if you go on an empty stomach (vegos possibly excepted).
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