Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Making a Personal Movie:'Chef,' movie review

If you’ve ever struggled to find a balance between nurturing a career and making time for friends and family, Jon Favreau’s latest should hit home.  He leads Chef as Carl Casper, a successful chef whose career is decimated by one abysmal review.  In an effort to regain some stability while also giving himself the freedom to take risks with his craft, Carl leaves the Los Angeles restaurant scene behind to run a food truck featuring his own, unique menu.  For more on the film, here’s my review.

A movie like “Chef” begs for a smorgasbord of puns, so let’s get those out of the way: This undercooked but still flavorful comedy may not have much meat to it, but the small side dishes can be a meal in themselves.

Jon Favreau steps away from helming blockbusters such as “Iron Man” to write, direct and star in this congenial fable. Carl Casper (Favreau) is a one-time culinary wunderkind who’s now middle-aged, with a wide midriff and middling reputation. His loyal staff includes efficient hostess Molly (Scarlett Johansson in a cameo) and chatty sous chefs Martin (John Leguizamo) and Tony (Bobby Cannavale). 

When the restaurant gets a visit from an influential food critic, Carl wants to prepare something extraordinary, but the restaurant’s owner (Dustin Hoffman) orders Carl to do nothing special. The result: A scathing review, a Twitter war of words between Carl and the critic — and a chef without a job.

Trying to land on his feet, Carl, his ex-wife Inez (flighty but pleasant Sofia Vergara) and their 10-year-old son Percy (Emjay Anthony, quite the pro) go to Miami, where Inez’ slick first husband (Robert Downey Jr.) donates a rickety food truck. Carl and Co. give it a fresh paint job and drive it from Miami to L.A., selling Cuban sandwiches like hot cakes all the way. By the time they get to California, Carl’s got his groove back.

Favreau has always been a cool, amiable presence, all the way back to “Swingers” (1996) and his mini-gem feature directorial debut, “Made” (2001). His Queens-kid persona is impossible not to like. Scenes of Favreau at the grill bantering with Leguizamo and Cannavale could almost sustain an entire movie.
It does for a while. The moments when Carl connects with his kid click, too. But there’s a whole patch of “Chef” that feels wayward, as if Favreau has gotten so accustomed to Big Studio demands to cut details and get to the next explosion that he decided to stretch out every single small moment in “Chef.”

The good news is that his slow simmer approach here never puts us off for too long as the camaraderie between he and his cast gives “Chef” its mild yet tasty spice. 

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