One of the cool things about WordPress is that you can write on the go. 80% of this review was written from a cell phone sitting in a packed subway train.
I recently caught Jon Favreau’s new film Chef at the Tribeca Film Festival, where it won the Heineken Best Narrative Category. The story of a Chef who falls big time and then turns a corner, the movie has some fun performances, a great soundtrack and loads of food. When the lights finally came up after the sold-out showing, the film received tons of applause. It’s a cute and compact film, so much so that most of the movie is wrapped up in the trailer. I went into the movie completely blind and loved it. As the hype machine grows, I don’t know if it’ll have the same impact, but I hope it does. Even though you know what to expect, it’s still worth the ride.
After Favreau’s fall with Cowboys & Aliens, Chef is a major scale down from the big budget flicks he’s done. This isn’t Iron Man with all of the J.A.R.V.I.S. hologram interfaces. It’s Ratatouille, minus the rats. You have food, friends, and twitter posts that take flight, spreading some word of mouth. Social Media plays a big part of Chef, and while it can date the film years from now (will Twitter and Vine even be around then?), it makes sense for the moment.
So, what’s the story? Chef Carl Caspar loves what he does, being the head Chef at a major restaurant and expressing his creativity through his different culinary dishes. With his cooking buddies at his side (John Leguizamo & Bobby Canivale) he’s the talk of the town, though it’s at the expense of his relationships, particularly the one with his young son. After a social media meltdown involving a Food Critic (played by Oliver Platt), Casper is forced to come up with a Plan B for his love of cooking. The free time gives Casper a chance to bond more with his son. As the commercials & trailers give away, the result includes a food truck.
That’s what you get, plain and simple.
The story feels a lot like Ratatouille in the way it touches on criticism at one point. The film suggests (or at least I felt I gave the suggestion) that a critic, sitting on the outside, can’t always grasp the effort that goes into creating something. Words can come across as harsh, dismissive and in some case abusive. I’m not sure I agree with that point, but that part of the storyline doesn’t hurt the film overall.
For Chef’s cast, Favreau reached out to quite a few people. From his work on the Iron Man movies, both Scarlett Johannson and Robert Downey, Jr. have small roles here. Also on tap are Dustin Hoffman and Sofia Vergara, who both put through some smile worthy performances. The film, however, belongs to Favreau, Leguizamo, and Emjay Anthony, who plays Casper son, Percy. Anthony in particular is the scene stealer of the movie, with his character introducing his father to the ins and outs of social media while learning a few things in the process.
As it’s a smaller film, there isn’t a lot in the way of visual effects, save for elements where Social Media is in play. Tweets are displayed in windows near characters and transform into blue birds that fly as it’s sent. It’s a cute representation of what many of us do at least once or twice a day. The same can be said for the camera work. It’s very simple, nothing too extravagant. I would almost say it’s an indie film, but considering the other films I saw at Tribeca, this felt like there was a bigger budget behind it.
If Chef suffers from any problems, it’s almost too cookie cutter clean. It’s not very damaging, but if your mindset is more cynical or critical, you may find the Casper route from his Plan A to Plan B a little out there, perhaps too easy. It does show how important networking is, that much I’ll say.
One of Chef’s major standouts is the soundtrack, a mixture of Latin Music, New Orleans big brass, and what I can only describe as “Jazzy Hip Hop”. A band called El Michaels Affair has a version of the Wu-Tang Clan’s C.R.E.A.M. that’s a smooth mix of a classic. The soundtrack is already available for purchase and the songs are all on Spotify. If you can, it’s definitely worth giving them a listen.
Chef is currently playing in select theatre’s in NYC and L.A.