Sometimes, a movie can just make you smile ear to ear, and leave you walking out of the theater feeling great. Such is the case with Jon Favreau’s newest film, ‘Chef’, which he wrote, stars in, and directs. It’s been a long time since Favreau has done a small, indie film like the ones he started with. He’s been spending so much time making bigger blockbuster films, so having him scale back just seems like a natural fit. This film certainly seems to be a very personal one for Favreau, who mixes his love for social networking, with a bit of commentary on his feelings towards critics, and the harm they can cause to someone who has poured their soul into their work.
The film, which follows a once acclaimed chef, Carl Casper (Favreau), who loses his job, and finds that he’s at a loss with what to do with himself. He has a failed marriage, barely understands or knows his son, Percy (Emjay Anthony), and he can’t seem to focus long enough to try and fix his life. But when Casper ends up with a food truck, it sparks a feeling he hasn’t had in a while, which is a passion for what he loves to do, while giving him a chance to reconnect with his son.
While many may find the film too cloying and sappy, it really seems to be a much more personal film, so it wears its heart on its sleeve. The less than obvious commentary Favreau focuses on about criticism seems like something that’s coming from him personally, as a filmmaker, and how he’s been ripped up and spit out by the people who gave him praise years ago. You really feel for Casper, and the pain he feels seems real. Favreau plays the character very well, even in his lowest moments. He may seem unlikable at times, but he’s just a man lost and trying to find himself, and he doesn’t necessarily understand the error of his ways. It’s that journey that really pushes him forward, and really makes you love him by the end.
It’s hard not to really want to see Casper reconnect with his son, Percy, played by relative newcomer, Emjay Anthony, who is really delightful in the role. The scenes between he and Favreau, as they finally begin to reconnect over Percy trying to teach Casper about social media is really fun, and they two play off each other well. The bonding and connection feels real between Favreau and Anthony, and it’s a natural fit that makes you really pull for the characters to fix their relationship. It can be hard to find a child actor who can hold his own against a seasoned actor like Favreau, but thankfully they got one who could match and play off him very well, and it makes the film the stronger for it.
The film is also full of wonderful moments for smaller characters, played by Favreau regulars Robert Downey, Jr. and Scarlett Johansson, as well as smaller roles for Sofia Vergara and John Leguizamo, and they all shine in their parts. Downey, Jr. in particular, to no one’s surprise, steals his small, but pivotal scene. But it’s just not the actors that are a major part of the film, but it’s the locations and music as well. The film shows so much love for Cuban culture, places like New Orleans and Texas, their food, and their music, and it all gels together so well. It’s a really fun experience, and one that really makes the movie that much better.
The new blu-ray for the film is very good as well, featuring a rather stunning transfer DTS-HD 5.1 track that’ll give your speakers a nice kick. Music is a huge part of the film’s rhythm and soul, so it was incredibly important for the film’s blu-ray release to make sure the music comes to life like never before, and Universal has delivered that in spades. The film also features a really great commentary by the film’s star, writer, and director, Jon Favreau, as well as the Roy Choi, the film’s chef and producer, and the man who helped teach Favreau to look like a professional chef. It’s a really fun and fascinating listen, and it’s always a lot of fun, without really lingering. Choi and Favreau play off each other well, and it makes the commentary definitely worth checking out. The disc also features a few deleted scenes, and while it’s good to see them, they’re not particularly needed or relevant, and I can see what Favreau would cut them from the film. Still though, fans will want to give them a watch.
‘Chef’ is a film that just leaves you feeling warm inside, and really leaves you feeling good as you leave the theater. Full of great performances, a lot of heart, wonderful music, and an incredible love for food, it’s one of 2014’s strongest offerings. Favreau seems so comfortable and happy to be back making a smaller film, and it really shows with the creativity and freedom it gave him. It’s good to see him really stepping back to that world. The blu-ray release looks and sounds spectacular, as well as featuring a wonderful commentary track, and a few deleted scenes for the curious. While it would be great if the disc had more content, it’s not a deal breaker that should stop anyone from buying this otherwise fantastic film. ‘Chef’ is one of the year’s biggest surprises, and is still my favorite film of the year. Definitely worth picking up.