Film Review: CHEF (directed by Jon Favreau / New York premiere at Tribeca Film Festival)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on April 23, 2014

in Film


Chef concerns Carl, a successful L.A. chef who finds he must reinvent himself after a Twitter fight with an important critic goes viral. First, let me tell you what I like of the film written, directed and starring Jon Favreau. Number one: Jon Favreau. I fell in love with him as an actor in Swingers and Very Bad Things and have delighted in his performances ever since. I miss seeing him act, so watching him here is not only a pleasure but a rare treat. Number two: Robert Downey Jr. not playing a superhero. His part as Marvin, Carl’s ex-wife’s ex-husband, is small but he juices it for all it’s worth. Number three: Dustin Hoffman. Also in a small role as Riva, a restaurant owner, his performance is, as always, nothing short of awesome. And number four: John Leguizamo, as Carl’s friend and sous-chef Martin, whose mere presence in scenes makes them better.


Now let me tell you what I like less about Chef.

First: It’s a little too sweet. Imagine a big ball of cotton candy drenched in powdered sugar, then dipped in a chocolate-caramel swirl, sprinkled with candy corns, chocolate chips and crumpled up s’mores, showered with heavy syrup and eaten while drinking a chocolate milkshake—it’s sweet like that. Except for maybe at the very beginning there’s never the feeling that anyone is ever in real jeopardy. What is supposed to be a big personal conflict towards the end of the film is in fact trivial and resolved quickly and painlessly. And although not unenjoyable, in the end Chef amounts to a bucket-full of empty calories.


Second: Enough already with the chefs. Between the cooking instruction shows and the cooking competition shows and the you’re-a-fucking-idiot-who-can’t-cook cooking shows—because even if one doesn’t watch them one’s psyche is still bombarded by them through pervasive advertising and ubiquitous references—it seems at this point a movie on the subject is unnecessary and (as much as I hate to use this word) passé. Especially a film like Chef, which fetishizes cooking and its mythology in the same way as these programs do; in this film they even go on the road, cooking Cuban sandwiches in Miami, po’ boys in New Orleans, and Texas barbeque sliders in Austin. At times it feels like Favreau is making a film in the style of a culinary program. This makes aspects of his movie seem derivative of television, which feels icky.


Third: The film feels like (and I would bet is) an advertisement for Twitter. Favreau even has little blue digital Twitter birds fly out on several occasions when characters send tweets. Many films have product placement but there’s something particularly ridiculous and distasteful about it here; it feels like Chef was made specifically to promote Twitter, and that Twitter executives had some sort of say in how their product was shown.


That said, Favreau’s dialogue—funny, dynamic, and naturalistic—is pleasing to the ear, especially when delivered by the excellent cast. And his script and direction do hit buttons; my eyes glistened at one point. I just wish there was substance here to back up his technical expertise.


photos by Merrick Morton © Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival

A Fairview Entertainment Production
Open Road Films and Aldamisa Entertainment
in association with Kilburn Media and Fetisov Teterin Films
USA – 2014 – Color – 115 min.
New York premiere at Tribeca Film Festival
for screening times, visit Tribeca
in U.S. theaters May 9, 2014

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