By Joan Ellis
Jon Favreau hits a home run with “Chef.”
As master planner, director, writer and star, he has managed to deliver his concept – a chef’s obsessive love of cooking – in a warm, colorful, package that is irresistible to delighted audiences. He has assembled a cast that hits all the right notes for a perfect rendering of a subculture built on passion.
As a fervent chef, Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) is driven by his own insistence on creating beautiful food from perfect ingredients. He has built a faithful following in a trendy restaurant with the aid of a loyal and disciplined kitchen staff. On the night that the restaurant is to be visited by legendary food critic Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt), owner Riva (Dustin Hoffman) orders Carl to stick to his popular menu rather than to experiment for the critic. “I think you should play your hits,” he says with finality. The artist is crushed; tempers flare. After Carl loses his job, the real work of his life and the fun of this movie begin.
Carl has an ex-wife, Inez (Sofia Vergara), who is Cuban and an entrancing young son named Percy (Emjay Anthony). It is Inez who manipulates Carl into rebooting his career in a food truck with Percy as his assistant. Old pal Martin (John Leguizamo) returns to the team and the three of them drive in their newly painted truck from Miami home to Los Angeles.
Instead of the stiff weekends of earlier days, father and son are working the road together. Leave it to Percy to add his digital culture to Carl’s love of cooking. He charts their trip on Twitter. As word spreads, crowds gather at every stop. The explosive dad with a heart of gold and the son who wants to know his father are rolling happily across the country on gourmet success. Food has once again become the old reliable medium for love.
Here’s why it works so well. The cinematographer is a real artist with his camera, fast cutting from shots of glorious food to facial expressions and emotional upheavals. It’s a visual feast on all levels. The soundtrack is loud, always changing, always fast. It’s not just the characters, but the actors who seem to be having such a good time together. There’s not a mean person in this movie. Bobby Cannavale, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey Jr., Amy Sedaris and a fine gaggle of others let us know quickly that we are supposed to relax and enjoy ourselves, no bad news ahead. Jon Favreau and young Emjay Anthony team beautifully together throughout the movie as they build their relationship through shared work.
The whole thing is so light and easy that even the few obvious questions that surface just float away. This is a feel-good movie peppered with spontaneous laughter, no need to look for flaws.
Who among us isn’t ready for something like that?