Prepare to salivate. Jon Favreau’s latest movie, Chef, is food porn on a grand, cinematic scale.
Grilled cheese sliding off freshly toasted bread, knives slicing through buttery barbecued brisket and crisp caramel snapping into sharp crystal shards - you can almost smell the culinary aromas wafting from the screen.
But Chef’s delicious, mouthwatering food photography is just decoration. Favreau’s latest effort is as overcooked and familiar as chef Carl Casper’s menus. Spoon-feeding all the foodie knowledge of a Jamie Oliver episode, Chef looks far better than it tastes.
Written, directed and starring Jon Favreau, Chef begins life as a promising film. After a diabolical review from food blogger Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt), chef Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) engages in a very public row with the critic and a Youtube rant sends the chef’s once promising career into a tailspin. It’s a promising, relevant concept with bags of potential.
Favreau’s first act is loaded with verbal sparring that pops and zings with bucket-loads of bite, while the supporting characters bask in surprising complexity. Carl’s difficult restaurant owner stifles his creativity but is given well-meaning warmth by Dustin Hoffman, and there’s a curious air of ambiguity in Carl’s relationship with front of house manager, Molly (Scarlett Johansson). Blue Jasmine’s Bobby Cannavale also makes an appearance as alcoholic sou chef Tony who’s mileage as a character offers endless potential. So far, Chef has all the ingredients for success.
But Favreau’s ability to pull in A-list names is promptly wasted. Cramming his most capable cast and edgy characters into the first twenty minutes, Favreau forgets them almost entirely in favour of Carl’s implausibly beautiful ex-wife (Sofia Vergara), a ridiculous benefactor (Robert Downey Jr) and a cute but predictable son (Emjay Anthony).
Despairing his fall on hard times, Carl admits “I’ve never not known what I’m gonna do, I’m lost”. It’s a sentiment echoed by Favreau’s disoriented screenplay. After an exquisite start Favreau seems stuck for a story and changes track entirely, giving us a cheesy father-son road trip that’s a saccharine showcase for America’s regional cuisine.
Brace yourself for barbecues, beignets and cuban sandwiches. This moreish Man v Food backdrop can only take Chef so far and what unfurls is a familiar story about an absent father’s attempts to reconnect with his son. It’s been done before, with more conviction and heart. For all it’s father-son angst, Chef’s most profound moment of jeopardy hinges on a burned sandwich.
You see, Chef doesn’t seem to know what kind of movie it wants to be. Is it a drama? Is it a rom-com? Is it a family movie or road trip saga? At times it could even be an advert for Twitter, or the iPhone. Incessant references to social networking constantly clutter up the script and the visuals. And don’t worry if you think you’ve missed something - Favreau even offers an early heads up that the film’s best moments will be revisited in a tear-jerking one second video montage courtesy of editing platform, Vine.
With its frothing butter, succulent steaks and brassy cuban soundtrack, Chef’s seductive visual and musical garnishes offer pretty mouthwatering escapism. With a loveable performance from the man himself, along with a dusting of uncomplicated giggles,
Favreau’s answer to cinematic gluttony is easy to swallow but should feel much more satisfying. Chef’s juicy appetiser is followed by bland, predictable fare and, chances are, you’ll end up leaving hungry.
Running Time: 114 minutes