Rated R for language, including some suggestive references
Written and directed by Jon Favreau
Starring Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale, Emjay Anthony and more
It may be a sin in the world of fine dining, but when it comes to movies there’s nothing wrong with playing to the crowd.
“Chef,” a delightful little palate-cleanser of a movie by Jon Favreau, is the movie equivalent of the well-made Cuban sandwiches that become the trademark of his character. There’s nothing new in the ingredients – a road trip, father/son bonding, an artist rediscovering himself after a professional setback – but they’re put together with such warmth and skill that the results are a sheer pleasure to consume. Like with the best meals, I was happier leaving the theater than I was going in.
Jon Favreau plays an amicably divorced chef who isn’t entirely happy at his current restaurant job. He crashes and burns after a food blogger says he’s become “predictable,” eventually giving into his ex-wife’s suggestion to be his own boss by getting a food truck. On the way, he struggles with being a good father and offers up a gorgeous, quirky little travelogue of the American South.
And oh, the food. “Chef” is food porn in the best possible way, offering up luxurious shots of delicious looking dishes that will make you hungry even if you just ate. Nearby restaurants will probably make a killing with “Chef” audiences leaving the theater, and a recipe book featuring some of the onscreen meals would probably net a nice chunk of change as well.
The acting may not be quite as dazzling as some of the dishes, but it’s delicious in its own way. Favreau’s character has a warm, naturalistic relationship with his son, played by Emjay Anthony, and their bonding moments manage to be touching without ever sliding into sap. Favreau, Leguizamo and Anthony are all excellent at communicating the sheer joy of cooking, making it clear far more than words could that it’s as much an art form as drawing or dancing.
There are also several charming guest appearances, particularly Robert Downey Jr. as an eccentric business owner and Oliver Platt as the surprisingly not-so-villainous food blogger. Though he’s the closest thing the movie has to a bad guy, both Platt and Favreau make him very real and understandable.
“Chef” isn’t quite a perfect dish, however. A major life decision by Leguizamo’s character isn’t adequately explained, a problem that could have been solved relatively easily. Also, it’s just a bit too indulgent of Favreau to imagine that his character could snag the romantic attention of women as gorgeous as Eva Longoria and Scarlett Johansson.
Still, those register as barely a glitch in the movie’s overall appeal. The movie’s soundtrack is also fantastic, leaning heavily to Cuban music with some good old-fashioned blues thrown in. It’s the kind of thing that makes you want to get up and dance in the aisles, though for the sake of your fellow theater patrons it’s probably best to restrain yourself to just tapping your feet.
If you want to dance out of the theater, though, that’s okay. “Chef” is just happy that you’re happy.
"Chef" is playing at Broadway Centre Cinemas and Cinemark Century 16 in Salt Lake.
Want to know what Dan Metcalf thought of Chef? Check out his review here.