It is a rare, multi-comedy weekend, as I follow Neighbors up with Jon Favreau’s latest film, Chef. Favreau stars as the titular character, a gifted artist whose work has drifted into a realm of complacency. Chef Carl Casper (Favreau) struggles to find the inspiration to pull himself out of a creative rut, while rediscovering his family at the same time.
The movie is very straight-forward, to a fault. It is designed to deliver a satisfying story about self-discovery and happiness. There is a manufactured quality to the script (written by Favreau) for the first half of the runtime that prevents a true connection. The director is moving pieces around on the board, but everything feels forced.
This is especially disappointing considering the incredibly talented cast Favreau has assembled. The film features Dustin Hoffman, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Bobby Cannavale, Oliver Platt and Amy Sedaris – all in small bit parts that tend to completely fall off the map. I can imagine a way more successful film that uses these actors to the best of their abilities.
Favreau still manages to make the feature work for the most part. Around the halfway mark, Carl takes on a new culinary endeavor at the insistence of his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara). At this point we get a much more effective road movie, as Carl travels across the country with his son, Percy (Emjay Anthony), and his friend and associate, Martin (John Leguizamo). The emotional beats start to hit a lot harder at this point, and the characters begin to behave appropriately.
The movie isn’t an out-and-out comedy. There are a couple laugh-inducing moments – particularly Downey’s scene and some on-the-road antics – but Favreau seems content to let the story evoke whatever it is going to evoke in the viewer.
He also wisely leans on the food. A movie titled Chef is going to feature food, and lots of it, and Favreau clearly went to extreme lengths to portray the art of cooking. The cooking segments are lovingly shot, and upsettingly hunger-inducing. The food all looks delicious, and Favreau took careful attention to play the physicality of a chef. His attention to detail, down to his own knife technique, is commendable.
The consensus is that Chef is a metaphor for Favreau’s directorial career. After huge studio pictures like Iron Man, Cowboys vs. Aliens, and Iron Man 2 it makes sense that the director would want to return to his independent roots. Chef may not be the most satisfying meal, but perhaps it is more of an appetizer for the next phase of Favreau’s career – one that balances the blockbusters with the small-scale character pieces.