Wednesday, April 1, 2015

What-to-Watch Wednesday: Chef (2014)

What-to-Watch Wednesday: Chef (2014)

Chef is one of those films I had been hearing about again and again in my consumption of film news for almost a year before I actually had the opportunity to watch it.  It caught my attention not only for the very eclectic and talented cast (including Avengers Robert Downey, Jr. and Scarlett Johansson) but also because the writer/director, Jon Favreau, passed up the chance to continue directing the Iron Man films (he directed the first and, arguably, the best of the three as well as the second one) in order to get back to his indie roots to make and star in this small, yet very entertaining film.

Favreau plays Carl Casper, a master chef in a top-notch California restaurant.  He has a busy, lucrative career but is creatively stifled by having to serve the same kind of food day in and day out.  His personal life isn't anymore fulfilling in that he is divorced from a woman he still obviously loves and cannot connect to a young son who idolizes him and yearns for his attention.  His frustration with his life along with his ignorance of social media lead him into a confrontation with a food critic that results in his leaving his job and running a food truck.

That sounds like a massive setback for someone once so successful and would be cause for excessive maudlin displays in a lesser film.  But, Chef is too smartly written for that.  And, slowly, as Carl deals with the changes befallen him, we begin to see his life take on a value and significance it was desperately missing.

The plot itself involves a road trip, a formula made fresh by actually having the road trip make sense given the circumstances of the characters.  The movie takes us on a trek from California to Florida to Louisiana to Texas and finally back to California, and we get to see a lot of local color in the mean time and a lot of delicious food.  I mean, A LOT of delicious food.  Someone told me that I would be starving by the end of this film, and they were right.  If only real food trucks would serve up anything close to the scrumptious delicacies that Carl hands out to his eager customers instead of cholesterol and heartburn wrapped in tin foil.

On a whole the movie is well-made, well-written, and nicely acted.  I don't know how Favreau got all the big name actors for this film (well, he did direct Downey and Johansson in Iron Man 2, so maybe they owed him a favor), but they all show a great enthusiasm for what they're doing and create interesting and compelling characters.  Maybe they just liked the script, which is funny and charming in all the right ways without skimping on the harsher elements of Carl's situation.

Personally, I am moved by the message of the film that any setback, any bad luck can ultimately result in something special and worthwhile.  All it takes is letting go of preconceived notions and recognizing the good things around you.  As Carl begins to do these things, we see his life blossom into something truly wonderful.

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