Chef (2014)

Netflix Star Rating: ★★★★★
Poe’s Star Rating: ★★★★☆ (OMG, give me all your food)

An acclaimed chef quits his job and aspires to open the best food truck in the country, finding the best ingredients and some life lessons along the way.

Category: Comedy, Drama

Rated R for language, including some suggestive references

Starring Jon Favreau, Sofia Vergara, Scarlett Johansson and John Leguizamo/ Written and Directed by Jon Favreau

Welcome back to another edition of Poe’s Picks. Come on in, get comfortable and stay awhile. Our first order of business is a vital one. For last week’s blog, I revealed I would be picking films via labeling movie genres on a dartboard and letting the dart and my cannon of an arm decide our film.

I’m afraid I have to reveal the truth, however, because I didn’t do that. There was no dart board. There was no dart stuck in a roommate’s ass cheek as others laughed hysterically. There was no dartboard nor darts because instead, I had ninja stars. That’s right, freakin’ ninja stars! No expenses were spared. I placed the genres on a large, circular piece of wood and like something out of a Jet Li movie, launched that pointed little devil right at the board. As fate would have it, it struck almost dead center, right on the card labeled… *drum roll*… comedies. The comedies section of Netflix is a dark place, filled with many movies I hope to never encounter. But this one, I’m glad I did. Grab a fork and let’s dig in.

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Photo Courtesy of IMDB.

“Chef” is a feel-good comedy with just the right amount of drama sprinkled in to make it a complete film. Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) is a renowned chef at Gauloise, an upscale restaurant in Los Angeles. As chef, he’s the kitchen’s top dog and runs the place like a well-oiled machine alongside his partners in crime Martin (John Leguizamo) and Tony (Bobby Cannavale). He’s no Gordon Ramsay, but Carl can be cutthroat and has earned the respect and allegiance of all on staff. Except, that is, by the owner of the restaurant Riva, played by scene-stealing legend Dustin Hoffman. Riva and Carl butt heads constantly over Carl’s desire to switch up the menu and create artistic cuisine like he once did in Miami. Riva tells him to just stick to his greatest hits, especially since the restaurant is set to host Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt), a world-famous food critic whose review is critical to the success of the restaurant.

Needless to say, Carl succumbs and serves the same menu he’s been creating for over five years. It doesn’t go over well with Ramsey, who rips Carl’s food to shreds via his review and social media. A depressed Carl is then shown the ways of Twitter in a hilarious scene with his 10-year-old son Percy (Emjay Anthony) and proceeds to learn that social media can have some unforeseen consequences. After some hesitation, Carl invites Ramsey back to the restaurant to serve him some new creations he’s been concocting, hell-bent on proving to this guy that he wouldn’t know good food if he sat on it. Naturally, Riva says no-go to the new menu and gives Carl an ultimatum: same menu or you’re gone. Carl opts for the latter, and from there on out he has to piece back together his professional and personal life. How does he attempt to do so? Buy a food truck, obviously, as all reasonable people would do after being fired.

There’s an all-star cast here, and it could be easy for the characters to become engulfed by the stardom of the actors portraying them. Luckily for us, the characters, although sometimes predictable, find the right note. Sofia Vergara, who can play a housewife in her sleep, brings some quality depth to her role as Carl’s ex-wife who wants him in her life but at the same time doesn’t know what role he should take on. The heavyweights of the film have some great scenes: Robert Downey Jr. momentarily steals the show in a laugh-out-loud scene where he tries to help Carl get a truck for his new business venture. The always welcome Scarlett Johansson, whose voice alone can make a man melt, is solid as the hostess of Gauloise who may want something more from Carl than just food. Hoffman, who is likable 99 percent of the time, is a total prick in this film. We can’t help but despise his guts as the overbearing, micromanaging owner. Mr. Hoffman, I mean that with the utmost sincerity.

Make no mistake, it’s Favreau’s show. He looks sort of like a faux, slightly less outlandish Guy Fieri who wants to reinstate his critically-acclaimed culinary career while also bonding with his son. His character is brash, unapologetic and all his own. While Carl can be hard to be around at times, he’s a guy you want on your team when push comes to shove.

What I really enjoyed about “Chef” is its simplicity. This isn’t to say it’s a dumb or boring movie, but more so that the movie knows what it wants to be and what it is. Instead of hitting the home run, it opts for a two out, RBI double. Just like great food, the film is about sights and sounds. There’s some excellent montages of Carl flicking the wrist in the kitchen, preparing great-looking food and the film really captures the sounds and sights of Los Angeles, Miami and everywhere he and his crew stop along the way.

I’m probably not the only one who feels this way, but there’s just something about watching people make great food that is universally human. The only thing better is eating it. “Chef” will make you laugh, but it will do a few other things as well. Ladies, it’ll make you want to tell that big buffoon you’re with to work on his cooking game, and it might inspire you to make something too. Fellas, trust me, the smartest men know the way to a woman’s heart is through her stomach. This movie is going to make you want to whip up something five-star for her. Am I forgetting anything? Oh, yes. My god, this movie will make you hungry.

Until next time.

In Good Films We Trust,

Matt “Roger Ebert wishes he was half the film critic I am” Poe