Thursday, February 12, 2015

Chef (2014) ***1/2

There's a scene in the movie “Swingers,” starring and written by Jon Favreau, where his character attempts to leave a message on a woman's phone. He keeps calling back to amend what he said before, and his messages just get worse and worse as he blows any chance he had with the girl. It's a classic film sequence that is hilariously painful to watch, and it pretty much sums up Favreau at his best.

There's a scene in “Chef” that captures that mix of everyman naturalism, insecurity, and physicality that Favreau is so good at. His character, Chef Carl Casper, has allowed a bad restaurant review to get under his skin. In a spiral of bad decisions, he winds up losing his job and blowing up at the reviewer in a tirade that is, as with every event today, captured on cellphone video and disseminated on the internet.

It turns out that being a viral internet sensation doesn't help much in a job search. Unemployed and depressed, Carl accompanies his son and ex-wife (Sofia Vergara) to Miami, where the Cuban food re-invigorates his love of good, basic cuisine. He finally swallows his pride and lets his ex-wife's ex-husband (Robert Downey, Jr.) give him a beat-up, old food truck, which he turns into a mobile, gourmet sandwich factory. Carl, his son (the talented Emjay Anthony), and his best friend and sous-chef (John Leguizamo) drive the truck to L.A. in an odyssey of food and culture.

I should have offered a spoiler alert, because I basically just revealed the entire plot. There are no big twists or major conflicts in this film. It's just a basic story of a guy redeeming himself by getting back to basics. Incredibly, this plot-less movie is delightfully fun to watch. Between the funny, organic performances (especially from Favreau, Leguizamo, and Anthony) and the unending sequences of delicious food being prepared and consumed, “Chef” is just a fun, easygoing film experience.

I enjoyed the way the internet and social media feature in the movie. Carl isn't internet savvy, and his troubles really start to snowball when he accidentally picks a fight on Twitter with that food blogger. Then, of course, that video of his tirade becomes an internet meme. The knife cuts both ways, however, as Carl's son uses social media successfully to promote their food truck. In the end, though, “Chef” is about those things that take place offline, spending time with family and eating delicious food.

3.5 stars out of 5

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