CHEF (Jon Favreau, 2014)
Few films that incorporate food in its core have achieved visual recall in history, like when Lumi Cavazos was baking that cake filled with her tears in LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE, or when Remy the rat makes magic in the kitchen in RATATOUILLE. To add to that list is the new film by Jon Favreau that makes a bold statement on how to follow your dream, and when to actually do it.
"CHEF" maybe filled with too much passion for the culinary craft for its own good, and Favreau can sometimes border on being a tad preachy, but expect a frame-by-frame sumptuous distraction from start to finish. Sure, the film wants you to tell everybody who never supported your artistry and individuality to go F--- themselves, but it also reminds us when to say enough is enough.
Oh, and the film also tells us about the responsible use of Twitter, which Favreau's character Carl Casper learns the hard way.
The images of food sizzle onscreen. A garlic-filled pasta ends up on the hungry mouth of Scarlett Johansson; we learn how to make a devilish butter toast, and; although we've never tasted it, we know we want a Cuban sandwich right after the movie. CHEF's power derives from our connection with food on a socio-cultural level, and the film is able to manifest that connection by showing how food "touches people's lives". Food became indelible landmarks for places and cultures. Food made that fateful encounter between Carl and food critic Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt). And guess what strengthened Carl's relationship with his son Percy (Emjay Anthony)? Twitter (no, food!)
What is admirable about Chef Carl Casper, Favreau's protagonist and alter-ego in the film is that he is a flawed human being. He is flawed as a husband (hence the divorce), he is flawed as a father (mistaking movie dates with his son as responsible parenthood) and he is flawed as a chef. Yes, he cooks almost excellently, but his ego is bigger than his heart. This is what caused his ultimate downfall, both in the culinary world and in the eyes of his son.
But the film does not dwell much on the past. Soon enough, Carl realizes his mistake and opens a food truck business, a concept that his ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) has long since offered him. He also notices how he treats his son like a stranger in favor of his wretched devotion to food.
CHEF is that feel good movie that does not betray its subject or its character. It has a big heart, it has countless food offerings for the weary eye, it has a great father-son dynamic, and the humor is delightfully light, like a dessert that slowly works its way into your palate.
One of my few qualms about the film though is the abrupt ending, because the film had us craving for food for two hours, and it just ends like that, without warning. Still, I liked that the film focused on food on so many aspects (entrepreneurial, artistic, personal) and that it made us consider food as an art form, not just a basic human need.