BY VINCENT ABBATECOLA
Over the summer before my senior year of high school, I had the opportunity to work in a local restaurant as a busboy. If you have ever had the chance to work in such an environment, you probably have an idea of how hectic it gets in the kitchen, like the fast-paced nature of New York’s Penn Station confined to one room. It’s a busy area, and unless you’re a chef, you go in for what you need and then must get out right away. During the time you’re in the kitchen, however, you can get a glimpse of what it takes to make an acceptable meal.
In Jon Favreau’s comedy-drama, “Chef,” he tells the story of man who loves to cook for a living and yearns for the freedom to prepare whatever dishes he wants. With a heartfelt lead performance from the director, a committed supporting cast and a narrative about the importance of never limiting your talents, Favreau brings us one of the best little surprises of the summer movie season.
Chef Carl Casper (Favreau) works at a Los Angeles restaurant where, one night, he and his kitchen crew must do their best to impress a food critic and blogger, Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt). Although Carl wishes to change the menu up with different dishes, his boss (Dustin Hoffman) is against it, and makes the staff stick with the traditional menu. After the restaurant is given a scathing review, Carl reprimand’s Ramsey on Twitter, invites him back to the restaurant and yells at him in front of the customers and staff before quitting.
Carl’s ex-wife, Inez (Sofía Vergara), invites him to accompany her and their son, Percy (EmJay Anthony) as she visits her father in Miami, and he accepts. While they’re there, Carl attempts to reconnect with his son, and offers to purchase a food truck from Inez’s first ex-husband, Marvin (Robert Downey, Jr.). After Carl’s fellow chef, Martin (John Leguizamo), joins them in Miami, and their creative abilities are soon able to flourish as they fix up the truck and open it for business.
Jon Favreau gives the best performance of his career, so far, as the film’s father figure. Throughout the film, he easily displays his character’s need to branch out and be adventurous with his profession. As mentioned before, there’s a scene early in the movie when he’s told by his boss that he has to stick to the regular menu and not make any changes. When Carl has to notify the rest of the staff, you can see the subtle hints of frustration in his facial expressions and tone of voice that emphasize how much he wants to venture into his new culinary creations.
Although several of Favreau’s previous roles called for him to be strictly comical, this role requires him to find a balance between comedic and dramatic acting. He tackles both of these styles equally well, but it was especially fresh to see him perform his more serious scenes, particularly when he angrily confronts the food critic and when he tries to reconnect with his son.
The screenplay by Favreau is one that tells a story of exploring your passion and keeping it alive by attempting new challenges to make it better. We are given several scenes that show how much care and attention Carl puts into cooking his many different meals, as well as scenes where we see the work that has to be done to repair the food truck to get it ready for business. These portions of the film really make you appreciate the hard work that Carl puts into making his edible visions possible.
In order to provide us with an idea of the detail and artistry that goes into what Carl makes, there are many shots of food during the film that instill a sense of the main character’s inventiveness when cooking. These shots aren’t just there to make your mouth water, but also to show how much Carl’s talent grows throughout the story.
As far as how the characters are written, one thing that I favor about the screenplay is how Favreau and Vergara’s roles aren’t presented in such a way that paint them as bitter divorcees, but rather as two friends who try to make the best of their current situation. The two are helpful to each other, seeing as Vergara’s character is the one who proposes the idea of the food truck to Carl, and Carl helps her take care of their son while she gets some work done while they’re in Miami.
Although the story can get a little cliched in spots with the whole divorced-parent-trying-to-reconnect-with-his-child angle, the film is still a lot of fun and rewarding to watch because of how genuine the characters are. Along with Favreau’s direction, he’s able to stage realistic interactions between the characters, with the scenes focusing on the main character’s family being standouts.
Not only will you leave the theater with the pleasure of having seen a great movie, but you might even notice your stomach growling.
Final grade: A-