Director: Jon Favreau
Screenwriter: Jon Favreau
Robert Downey Jr.
Runtime: 114 mins.
Australian release date:
Chef, directed by Jon Favreau, is a return to indie film-making after the big budget Iron Man franchise for this larger-than-life ‘slashie’ (producer/ director/ actor) who, incidentally, bears quite a resemblance to the late, great James Gandolfini. Beginning in Los Angeles before heading off on a road trip from Miami back to L.A. through New Orleans and Austin, Chef takes us on a journey of self-discovery. The treasures unearthed along the way include a man’s realisation of his self-worth and the renewal of his relationship with his son: in other words, the rediscovery of the important things in life. On a more superficial level Favreau asks if, in the food industry at least, it is possible to carve out a career that covers both ‘fine dining’ and ‘fast-food’ and still offer up a quality product? In some ways, this could be a reflection of Favreau’s own career in the film industry, as he has managed to move between both the ‘fine dining’ indie world and the ‘fast-food’ major studios and has achieved success in both.
Carl Cooper (Jon Favreau) is one of L.A.’s hot chefs, working in a successful eatery called Gauloises where he runs the well-oiled kitchen while his ‘friend with benefits’ Molly (Scarlett Johannson) looks after the front of house. The menu is as solid as the restaurant’s reputation, however, Carl wants to break out and do something different, mainly to impress a well-known food blogger, Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt). When his plans are thwarted by the owner, Riva (Dustin Hoffman), who insists on leaving things as they are - Riva is a curmudgeon who takes the attitude that people always expect the same, using the example that an audience would be disappointed if the Rolling Stones didn’t play ‘Satisfaction’ at one of their concerts - the night turns out to be disastrous. The resulting negative review not only causes a rift between Carl and Riva, who end up severing their working relationship, but the ensuing feud between the blogger and the chef becomes a cause celebre when it goes viral on Twitter and the net.
Devastated, Carl is convinced by his ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) to get out of town for a while and accompany her and their lonely 11-year-old son Percy (Emjay Anthony) on a trip to Miami. While there Inez sets up a meeting for Carl with another of her ex-husbands, Marvin (Robert Downey Jr.), who may be as ‘mad as a cut snake’ but generously secures an old food truck (very much part of America’s food culture) for Carl. Teaming up with his old sous-chef from Gauloises, Martin (John Leguizamo), and his disconnected son, the trio set off on a road trip back to LA. Along the way, Carl rediscovers his love for ‘real’ food and ‘real’ life.
There are some great moments in this film. Denise Pizzini’s production design and Alicia Maccarone’s art direction create an authentic atmosphere that is highly believable and is enhanced by Kramer Morgenthau’s crisp cinematography - some of the cooking scenes are simply mouth-watering. The performances are all excellent, from the organised chaos of Gauloises’s kitchen, where even the minor characters are well developed, to the cameos by Downey Jr. and Hoffman. Favreau is known to allow his actors to improvise and this method adds to the originality and authenticity of the script. Like all good foodie films, Chef leaves your taste buds wanting more. It is advisable to have dinner planned for afterwards or, better still, eat before you go!