Carl Casper wants to make what he wants to make. He doesn’t want to have a boss and much prefers to work with his friends doing what he enjoys while simultaneously trying to get people to love what he loves.
So does Jon Favreau. He plays Casper, the titular and loveable food master in Chef¸ a film he also wrote and directed and one that is in fact less a film, and more a lovesong to Cuban cuisine and southern music.
It’s about doing what you love, and it stands to reason that Favreau has made a lot of money for a lot of people with offerings such as Elf and Iron Man, so now he can basically do what he wants: make his own film and hang out with his friends.
Which is why Robert Downey Jr. is credited among the cast, though he only shows up for one scene. Dustin Hoffman too has a small part, as does Scarlett Johansson. They’re all welcome presences, and even Amy Sedaris and Russell Peters show up in a movie that looks to have been more fun to make than it is to watch – by no means does that mean it’s bad.
It’s Favreau’s films, and he takes his time getting to the rather simple point, and doesn’t go at all for any cathartic moment or tension-filled climax. The turn strangely takes place at about the halfway point of this two hour saga, a point where Casper has had it with his boss (Hoffman) and a savvy food blogger (Oliver Platt) with whom Casper unknowingly gets into a Twitter beef.
That social network provides a lot of laughs and gets a curious amount of screen time, as does Vine and YouTube. Eventually when Casper does what he wants to do, he enlists his Sous Chef Martin (a funny and ever-charming John Lequizamo) and his son Percy, and together they journey, with Casper’s often neglected offspring using his techie talents to attract crowds and catalog cherished moments.
See, Casper (or is it Favreau?) doesn’t quite understand how social media works, and he goes on a bit of a rant about it. That is nothing though compared to the tirade he unleashes about the role of (food) critics, who sit and write while people pour their heart and soul into their work.
Maybe there’s a metaphor there, but it’s more likely just a poke and a jab. Mostly, Chef wants you to get excited about food – cooking food and listening to tunes and hanging out with your friends. There is no shortage of lengthy montages of Favreau slicing and dicing and chopping and hopping around the kitchen for no reason in particular other than to show off.
At one point he does have an audience in Johansson, as she relaxes on a couch in a skimpy black outfit getting a bit too excited for Casper to cook her dinner. That’s what he wants your reaction to be.
The few moments of heightened tension come early, but even as Casper and his boss face off, there is the constant understanding that Casper is his own worst enemy; he fights a system and protocol and those things he does not understand, if only he could break free.
He does eventually, and everything seems to change rather drastically, though it’s still genuine and just as witty.
In all, Chef is a lengthy four-course meal with more than ample time to digest and regroup. It’s casual fare without pretense of patronization, made with love and patience. You’ll feel good after seeing it, but you’ll probably also be ready for bed.