By Gary Murray

Starring Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo and Sofia Vergara

Written and directed by John Favreau

Running time 115 min

MPAA Rating R

Selig Film Rating FULL PRICE


I try to avoid as much as possible all the media that happens before a film is released.  In our oversaturated cinema information world, one has seen all the funny bits and all the action bits of a film well in advance of the film spilling out on a cinema screen.  I prefer to go in without any preconceived notions of what will happen on the screen.  Basically, I enjoy the blank slate.

There was not one frame of the new film by Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Cowboys & Aliens) that I had seen prior to the press screening.   As the lights went down, I knew nothing of the film and was pleasantly surprised and charmed by the experience.

The story of Chef is the story of Carl Casper (Jon Favreau).  He runs the kitchen at a five-star restaurant run by Riva (Dustin Hoffman).  Years ago, Carl was heralded as the new shining star in Miami but seems to be in a cooking rut in California.  He wants to be experimental but the owner wants to keep serving the culinary greatest hits. 

One of the biggest on-line critics Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt) is coming to the restaurant and Carl wants to make something special.  His cooking team Martin (John Leguizamo) and Tony (Bobby Cannavale) support his endeavor.

The owner balks and forces Carl to make the same old tired menu.  The on-line review comes out and the critic slams the chef.  He also takes some personal stabs against the man himself.  The words enrage Carl and he sends a Twitter reply to Ramsey.  Not understanding how Twitter works, Carl actually sends the message so that all of Ramsey’s followers see the words. 

With the gauntlet thrown down, Ramsey decides to make a special menu for Ramsey, inviting him back.  Riva refuses to let this happen, reminding Carl that it is Riva’s restaurant. Carl quits.  That night, Carl confronts Michel at the restaurant, ranting at the critic.  Since everyone on the planet has a camera phone, Carl instantly becomes an internet sensation and a man without a job and with no prospects for another chef job. 

Carl’s ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) knows that Carl will not be happy unless he is the owner of his own business.  She has been pushing him to start a food truck where he can cook what he wants and be his own boss.  She is an event planner, living in a giant house full of servants.   She dotes over her young son Percy (Emjay Anthony).  Percy keeps showing an interest in his father’s work, wanting to learn everything about being a chef. 

Inez has to go to Miami and takes Carl along as Percy’s nanny.  She convinces her first ex-husband Marvin (Robert Downey Jr.) to help out Carl.  Before one can blink, Carl has a used food truck and the last half of the film is the road trip back to LA from Miami.

There is some true obsession in this film.  Jon Favreau the writer/director is impassioned by the proceedings and makes a film that shows not only a love of good food but a love of doing good work.  Time and time again, he teaches his young son life lessons while making sandwiches.  There are truly no bad guys or good guys in the film, just people who want to do their best.  This is Jon Favreau’s most personal film of his career.

Sofia Vergara plays a very subtle role, a far stretch from her over-the-top television character.  She is full of allure and wit, a woman who cares for everyone and tries to do what is best for everyone.  It is a new direction in her career.

The film is peppered with just about every actor in Hollywood in small parts.  It seems that Jon called in every favor from every A-list celebrity to be a part of this little film. 

The weakest element is Jon Favreau as an actor.  As a director and storyteller, he has few equals.  He just does not have the charm needed for this role.  And it is very hard to believe all the different women who show interest in his character.

The soundtrack has a mix of different local vibes, from Cuban dance music to New Orleans jazz.  It becomes a whirlwind of sounds that blend into an exotic whole, easily one of the best soundtracks of the year.

To put it simply, Chef is my favorite film of 2014 (so far), full of heart and fervor.  It is a pleasant surprise in a summer of CGI effects.  It is a story of real people living real lives.   One final note–do not go to this film on an empty stomach.  All the different foods and flavors will drive patrons crazy with culinary desire.

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