Recently Jon Favreau’s characters have been rather forgettable. His last major stint as director occurred in 2011 with Cowboys and Aliens (although he directed multiple tv episodes) and has appeared in various movies as quick cameo characters. Chef has the potential to improve his recent slump.
Chef tells the story of a divorced dad in a decent job as the lead chef of a restaurant that has lost its momentum. A food critic arrives on a night that Favreau’s character, Carl Casper, wishes to try an exciting new menu but his ideas are shot down in favor of bland and familiar food. After a disparaging review and lack of knowledge in social media procedures, Carl restarts his career as the owner of a food truck and brings along his son for the summer.
Feel-good movies often result in cheesy dialogue and flat characters. But Favreau’s character actually has depth and an arc between the beginning and end of the film. Typically in movies involving divorce, the dad is seen as inattentive and neglectful but Casper is portrayed as a man who wants to be with his son and actively involves him whenever possible. He listens to his son (Percy) when Percy wants to talk in whatever way he can reach him. A conversation about Twitter, which Percy is focused on that Casper has little knowledge about, convinces Casper to create a Twitter account so he can message Percy in a way that Percy can relate. It’s rare in films that the parents are willing to meet kids in the middle and communicate in ways that the kids will gravitate towards.
Chef also contains a healthy divorced relationship. Often divorced characters are bitter and acrimonious toward each other, so it is wonderful to see divorced characters that are not vindictive. Fans expecting Sofia Vergara to be as silly and caricatured as she is on Modern Family may be somewhat disappointed, though her character shows her ability to portray a wide range of personalities.
The most surprising character, however, is definitely Emjay Anthony’s depiction of Percy. Usually I cringe whenever a kid is involved in movies that are not family-oriented because the topics are beyond a kid’s ability to comprehend and accurately portray. But Anthony’s character is believable and it is clear that has has natural talent in his acting choices.
Chef is rife with cameos but don’t expect to see your favorite actors in anything more than bit characters. Robert Downey Jr. appears for five minutes or so and I am fairly certain Favreau gave him a general idea of the scene and Downey ran with it as humorously as possible sans script. John Leguizamo’s character provides humor but is not overwhelming or distracting. Scarlett Johansson appears but is not given enough scenes to create a character with depth. My only minor complaint is that occasionally the plot slows at times but when the plot picks up it is extremely entertaining.
The Blu Ray doesn’t offer much in the way of special features. This is a bit disappointing given that the movie’s so good it makes you curious about various aspects of its production. But pretty much the only thing you’ll get here are some deleted scenes. Still, the movie itself is good enough to warrant picking this one up, especially if you’re a fan of the talent involved in it.