PHOTO BY ALDAMISA ENTERTAINMENT
Where is it playing?: The Palm, Park
What's it rated?: R
What's it worth?: $10.00
Writer and director Jon Favreau stars in this film about a chef (Favreau) who loses his restaurant job but starts a food truck to try to reignite his creativity while reconciling with his estranged family. John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale, Emjay Anthony, Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, Sofía Vergara, Oliver Platt, Amy Sedaris, and Robert Downey, Jr., co-star.
Though Chef traverses familiar ground, it does it with so much heart and wit that it’s hard not to fall for this emotionally resonant charmer.
It also boasts a terrific cast in a variety of small roles, which speaks to Favreau’s reach into Hollywood’s A-list. I guess a couple blockbusters like Iron Man and Iron Man 2 help draw a talent like Robert Downey, Jr. to the small role of Marvin, whose exchange with Favreau’s character Chef Carl Casper was one of the film’s many highlights. And Dustin Hoffman’s turn as Riva, the controlling owner of the restaurant from which Casper departs in a huff, proves there are no small parts, even in character-packed films like this. Scarlett Johansson is absolutely magnetic as Molly, the restaurant floor manager and Casper’s confidante. Oliver Platt stars as pompous restaurant critic Ramsey Michel, whose scathing on-line review of Casper is the impetus for his emotional meltdown, which brings us to the film’s clever uses of social media.
Casper is relatively ignorant of social networking, which allows his estranged son Percy (Emjay Anthony, who’s terrific) and him to connect since his kid is a whiz. The problem is, after setting up his dad Casper’s Twitter account, Percy doesn’t fully explain to his dad how it works, and what Casper thinks is a private message to Ramsey Michel is soon a public feud, leading to a showdown in the restaurant and a viral video of Casper’s meltdown. Thankfully, the same technology that gets Casper into hot water becomes a catalyst for his son and he to bond on a cross-country trip to bring Casper’s new food truck from Florida and back to L.A. Hence, the final third of the film is a road trip, one that injects a full dose of emotion into this already heartfelt script.
The movie centers on Casper at a crossroads both career-wise and emotionally. His wife Inez (Vergara) clearly still has affection for him—he’s her son’s father, after all—and she wants him to connect with Percy and regain his passion in the kitchen, which has been tamped down by Riva. That’s why she encourages him to be his own boss on a food truck.
Martin (Leguizamo) and Tony (Bobby Cannavale) are Casper’s loyal kitchen staff, and they provide much of the film’s humor. Along the way, we see Casper at times push Percy away, at other times push him too hard to work scrubbing down the food truck, but ultimately, Percy learns important lessons about work ethic and pride in the products you create.
Despite the large number of characters, the story never gets confusing, which is a testament to Favreau’s writing skills. There’s also a lot of realism here. The emotions Favreau conjures between Casper and Percy, Casper and Inez, and Casper and his friends feels real. Like I said, these are familiar themes, but great writing, direction, and acting combine, and throw in the amazing soundtrack, the great love affair the camera has with L.A., Miami, New Orleans, and Austin, and you’re left with a movie that’s guaranteed to warm any heart, and I’ll be damned if you’ll not be craving a Cuban sandwich after! (115 min.)