A few things about me: I’m a picky eater, have been told I over-rationalize things, and work daily with social media. Chef wasn’t made for me, but I wanted to watch something light and potentially funny and saw Jon Favreau’s film staring back at me from my Netflix queue. So I watched it. And while it wasn’t hilarious (to me) or a new favorite (of mine), it was in fact light, and it paired well with my tacos.
Chef is a simple story– a fighter pilot (just kidding, a chef!) is prepping for his restaurant’s review by Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt), a locally famous critic. As Carl (Favreau) gathers ingredients, instructs his team, and ignores his ten year old son, Percy (Emjay Anthony), the restaurant owner (Dustin Hoffman) informs Carl that he cannot make any “artsy shit,” and that he must stick to the menu the restaurant always provides to customers. A disheartened Carl and team sure enough serve the usual, and it backfires. Ramsey slams the food and Carl, and while Carl is sad, he isn’t mad until he learns about the negative news swirling on Twitter. His teammates repeatedly blast the tweets in front of him, and finally Carl asks what Twitter is. Next thing you know, Percy is teaching Carl how to use the social media site. Carl doesn’t understand that tweet replies aren’t private, and gets into a public digital spat with Ramsey.
Fast forward through twenty minutes of a slow Carl breakdown which makes him YouTube famous and we’re off to Miami with Carl, Percy, and Carl’s ex-wife Inez, who is somehow filthy rich (all we know is that she has a publicist and some work to do in Miami) and is played by a very blonde Sofia Vergara. Carl is completely lost. He wants to make beautiful, exquisite meals (as we’ve seen him do in his home kitchen), but he’s lost his job and team and, as far as he’s concerned, any hope. It’s here, an hour into the film, that we meet Carl’s food truck, which he gets from Inez’s first ex-husband, Marvin (Robert Downey Jr. because why not?). I’m not spoiling anything here because the saving-grace food truck is in all the film’s promotional material.
Sure, this all sounds interesting, and the film does go by quickly, which is always a great sign; however, Chef proved to be far too inconsistent and optimistic. First, inconsistent: Carl wants to create these intense dishes but ends up happy making Cuban sandwiches in a truck. That wasn’t his vision thirty minutes ago. He’s also clueless when it comes to online functions, but while in a conversation about reality TV, Carl says that he doesn’t want to be the next Honey Boo Boo. Am I supposed to believe this bachelor has no idea what Twitter is but can confidently reference a TLC show? The soundtrack is also all over the place, as is the set-up of Carl’s apartment throughout the movie, but I will say some scenes (particularly the opening) were shot beautifully.
In regards to the over-optimistic tone, at one point while in Miami, Carl calls his friend Martin (John Leguizamo, and yes this film has a Martin and a Marvin) and tells him about his new truck. Ten minutes later Martin, who was just in California, is standing next to Carl in Miami. Same day. Carl says, “You must’ve hopped on a plane as soon as I called you!” To which Martin replies, “I did!” saying he too was pumped for this new business venture. Really? The food truck also rides wild, with no permits and no problems. Percy is the other dollop of sweetness, a ten year old who has mastered the internet. I’m not saying that isn’t plausible, but what is arguably plausible is a Twitter handle for an unknown food truck suddenly blowing up and causing insane lines and customer paparazzi in every city as the men (and boy) drive from one coast to the other. Folks would not line up for a closed Cuban food truck while visiting New Orleans, okay?
The movie has the heart of a Cheaper by the Dozen (follow-your-dreams and love-the-one-you’re-with), but the mouth of a teenager with all its dirty jokes, and, more than anything, Chef tries awfully hard. Scarlett Johansson plays a “waitress,” and the star tattoos on her shoulders do not make her any more relatable or edgy. At one point restaurant-owner Dustin Hoffman brags about an ’09 wine to Ramsey, and lest we forget, Robert Downey Jr. makes an appearance. All this to say– it’s sweet. It’s occasionally humorous. And if you’re into food porn? You’ll love it.