It’s no secret that I love John Favareau (any man who brought Iron Man to the big screen is a friend of mine) and as soon as Robert Downey Junior started posting about Chef on his twitter I was incredibly eager to see it. I sat down to watch Chef on Tuesday morning with incredibly high expectations and I must say that it lived up to every single one of them. This feel good indie comedy managed to do what so many films fail to accomplish: it presented a feel good storyline that still managed to have substance behind it. The characters were charming and endearing while still managing to be flawed and realistic making for a story that was relatable and uplifting. There was no major trauma, no devastating events that defined the film; it was simply a feel good story with a relatable cast of characters that proved to be an incredibly enjoyable and memorable experience.
Carl Casper (Jon Favareau) is an L.A. chef who established a glowing reputation early on for creating innovative and unique food but for the past few years has run the kitchen at an upscale restaurant that pushes the same expert meals each evening. When Carl hears that Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt), a food critic and a fan of Carl in his earlier days is to dine there that evening, he dreams up an impressive and innovative menu — but is shut down by his boss Riva (Dustin Hoffman) who wants him just to “play your hits.” He refuses and is fired. The critic tweets a scathing review, and Carl storms back into the restaurant, lashing out at Michel in a rant that the other diners record. It goes viral. With no prospects for restaurant work, he must return to his roots and find artistic satisfaction as the owner-chef of a taco food truck. Enlisting the help of his former employee (John Leguizamo) and his son Percy, Casper embarks on a cross-country road trip in his truck to rekindle his love for cooking.
Chef boasts a star-studded cast of supporting characters that help to bring the story to life in a relatable and realistic way. Sofia Vergara shines as Inez, Carl’s ex wife who despite their recent divorce really does want the best for him. Favareau’s Iron Man costars Scarlett Johansson and Robert Downey Jr. make memorable appearances- Johansson as Carl’s bartender/sometimes girlfriend and Downey as Inez’s previous ex husband who steals the show in his 5-minute scene in which he provides Carl with the truck that will allow him to pursue his dreams. Dustin Hoffman also makes a memorable appearance as Riva, Carl’s boss who represents “the man” in his purest form- crushing Carl’s culinary creativity in favor of predictable dishes to please the masses.
However despite the many impressive performances from the supporting cast, the real standout for me in this film was Emjay Anthony who portrays Carl’s dejected son Percy with such a charm and innocence that it is nearly impossible not to fall in love with him. Percy is a pinnacle of childhood innocence who just wants to spend time with his absentee father that doesn’t feel contrived or forced. The bond that develops between the two as they travel across the country in the truck is perfectly documented at the end of the film in the “one second a day” video that Percy created through the journey. Through the film, Casper teaches his son the family business and ultimately learns to know and love him the same way that the audience does.
Overall Chef was incredibly predictable. Some critics might argue that it didn’t take enough risks, that it wasn’t enough to be truly memorable. I would argue the opposite. The pure feel good attitude and impressive cast of characters made it clear that Chef wasn’t trying to be something it was not. It was not trying to be particularly groundbreaking or life changing, it was simply an uplifting film about real people and sometimes, that is enough to make a movie great.