Honestly, I hesitate to dish out anything but praise for Chef given the film’s harsh stance on food bloggers. If Jon Favreau can dedicate so much screen time to shouting at anonymous critics of food, I don’t want to know what he’d do to an equally anonymous critic of his films. Plus, he spends the majority of Chef flexing his tattooed forearms and wielding knives longer than my shoe. But I did see Chef, curling up on a cold December night with my Redbox tape and a bottle of cheap, screw-top wine. Despite my instinct for self-preservation and desire to avoid Favreau’s rage, I must admit that I did not love Chef, as many others have. In fact I barely liked it.
Favreau certainly has proved he is a talented director with film credits that entertain above all else. And Chef is his passion project. Serving as writer, director, producer and star of the film, Favreau’s love for the food he cooks on-screen is obvious. Or his acting is really good … as if he was a paid, professional, well-seasoned actor. I doubt it, I think it’s his passion not acting that comes through the screen.
The film breaks into three unequal parts. It begins with a persistent demonstration of Favreau’s lax parenting and the damage it does to his young son Percy, played by Emjay Anthony. After a very public, reverse-deus-ex-machina-fueled implosion, Favreau hits the road with Percy and the fun version of John Leguizamo, spending a huge chunk of the movie driving from Miami to Austin before inexplicably speeding across the country in 90 seconds and ending the movie in Los Angeles, making us feel somewhat like a spinning dinner plate after a magician yanks away the tablecloth.
Chef’s beginning feels forced and its ending feels truncated. But the middle is fantastic. The chemistry between Favreau, Leguizamo and Anthony pulls the movie through the less than stellar bookends. (Note: The first third of the film does offer Robert Downey Jr. and Sofia Vergara in roles that show they can act in roles that are both over-the-top and not, respectively. It also features more elaborate cooking segments than those during the road trip).
I watched the film twice. The first time was on a date that didn’t go so well. The second time was with my mother and father who have spent almost everyday over the last 28 years cooking on a hotdog cart in downtown Rochester, NY. On that second viewing all of Favreau’s heartfelt soliloquies on parenting and the inheritance of cooking were less eye-roll-inducing and more meaningful. My experience with the film is inextricably tied to my experiences growing up on the side of parents’ cart and stealing Doritos with my brothers until I eventually ran my own cart for a few summers in college. I don’t know how I would view the movie (for better or worse) without that history. But Favreau’s passion for food and family is the most important take-away from this movie and watching him cook across the country with his son is worth the less pleasing appetizer and dessert. Boom. I’m calling it in internet, I’ve officially perfected my food references.
Bottom Line: I did enjoy Chef overall and will remember it well. But it contains sections I did not enjoy and could have been improved. I wish the beginning and ends were cut off and we could just watch Favreau and Co. dish out Cubanos across the country.
Thanks for reading!
P.S. It excites me that after writing so many reviews with “Katniss and Co.”, “Rogen and Co.” and “Keanu & Co., LLC,” I can finally make a rhyming organizational name. Favreau and Co is a big moment for me. Thank you Chef.
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