By John Baggett
PSDC Pop Culture Guru
Project Shanks Monday Night Movie: Chef (2014)
Rating: **** 1/2 (out of 5)
The Monday Night Movie is back after a long, mostly unplanned hiatus, but things have calmed down in life for me to get back to this column. And since it is Labor Day, I could have totally done something on the nose, like review Jason Reitman’s film Labor Day, but that would be totes obvious, as the kids might say. (Don’t worry. I hate me for that sentence too.) And because I also can’t think of any Labor Day themed horror movies (because doing a Google search was out of the question), I am doing what I usually do every week – picking something completely at random! This week I am taking a look at the 2014 comedy from writer/director/actor Jon Favreau, Chef.
Chef follows Carl Casper (Favreau), a Miami based chef working as the head chef at Gauloise, a fine dining restaurant in Brentwood, California. Carl is a popular chef, but he feels is in a rut, as he has grown tired of his classic dishes and wants to experiment. While his career is going well, he has something of a strained relationship with his son, Percy, who lives with Carl’s ex-wife, Inez (Sofia Vergara). Percy has great interest in being a chef and what his dad does, but Carl seems to keep him at a distance when it comes to that.
Carl’s creativity is a hit with his staff, including sous chef Martin (John Leguizamo) and hostess/part-time fuck buddy Molly (Scarlett Johansson), but not so much with the restaurant’s owner, Riva (Dustin Hoffman), who wants him to stick with the hits. But when food bligger Ramsey Mitchell (Oliver Platt) calls his food tired and boring, Carl takes it personally and with Percy’s help he calls him out on Twitter to come for a special menu. However, Riva steps in and makes Carl and staff stick to the menu and Carl has the first ugly meltdown that night. Ramsey shows up and is treated to the same menu he gave a mediocre review to and calls out Carl again on Twitter. This causes Carl to totally lose his shit and have the ugliest, career endingest meltdown of his life.
Now unemployed, Inez steps in and has Carl come to Miami with her and Percy to see her dad. While there, he wants Percy to have an authentic Cuban sandwich made by actual Cuban chefs, but Inez tells him that his were always better. With the help of Inez’s other ex, Marvin (Robert Downey Jr.), he buys a food truck and decides to start cooking for himself again. He puts Percy to work and teaches him the value of hard work, how to have pride as a chef, and how to cook. Martin shows up to serve as his sous chef again, and Carl opens up his own food truck. With Percy by his side, Carl sets out for a cross country tour that helps not only rebuild his reputation, but his relationship with Percy and Inez.
Chef is the ultimate vanity film. Favreau wrote and directed this film after helming the successful Iron Man and Iron Man 2, along with the much maligned Cowboys & Aliens. Here, he is back to his indie roots, sort of. Yes, this is a lower budget film and with its somewhat meandering third act, it is a return to Favreau making a smaller film on his own terms. He just has enough clout to where those terms let him put A-listers in his cast. (Nothing is more obvious that this is a Favreau fantasy than him getting to hook up with both ScarJo and Sofia Vergara in the same film.)
Yet, none of the vanity of this project matters at all. This is a wonderful film from start to finish. The cast is sublime, the writing is sharp and funny, the scenery is beautiful, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hungry every time I watch this film. I have made breakfast tacos at 2:00 a.m. because of this film. This is probably my favorite of his films right now. Even over Swingers, because that film is just so over-quoted these days. If I hear anybody tell me I’m so money again I might punch them in the larynx.
Chef is an absolute gem of a film that will satisfy everyone that watches it. Just don’t blame me when it sends you on a journey for a Cuban sandwich. We’ve all been there.
Follow John on Twitter: @TrapperJohn1210