You know when you’ve made plans to go out to dinner with someone but you haven’t decided where you want to go? One of you asks the other where they want to go and they say they don’t care and ask you, and your answer is that you don’t care, but then when you suggest someplace and they say “no,” and then this dialogue repeats for several cycles, and hopefully before one of you gets angry you settle on someplace and then you finally get to enjoy a good meal?
This movie is a lot like that. It shows the paths it’s not going to take before becoming a quite enjoyable movie, a warm story about a father and son bonding (against the backdrop of Twitter- for real), rather than the foodfest you might have been expecting. Jon Favreau plays Carl Casper, a frustrated chef facing the existential threat of selling out that all artists confront.
We are introduced to him and his kitchen crew as they scramble to prepare for the way-too-powerful millionaire critic (?) who will be coming in to review the mispronounced Gauloises restaurant that evening.
Are you cocking your dog ears too?
First of all, as anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant knows, critics don’t announce when they are coming to a restaurant- for that matter, most don’t publish their pictures. This is not the case for the Fraunch nommé Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt); his pompadoured pixillated portrait dominates his blog.
When a VIP is known to be coming to a restaurant, the menu is planned (and printed) well in advance, not the hour before that night’s service is to begin, AND that hour would not be taken up with an argument over said menu with the restaurant’s owner Riva (Dustin Hoffman).
So far, I’m alienated by the unreality and forced dialogue.
Then, I’m amused by the vitriolic review read aloud by Mr. Favreau in the only bar in Los Angeles that still allows smoking. In addition to disemboweling Casper’s cuisine, the review pokes fun at his unseemly weight gain, a defensive move on Favreau’s part, I’m guessing since restaurant critics in practice critique the food, not the chef.
The review is catastrophically hilarious. While not quite as entertaining as Pete Wells’ opprobium for the New York Times of Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen & Bar in Times Square, like that classic, it goes viral. (Note that the professional Mr. Wells resisted indulging what could have been a tempting takedown of Mr. Fieri’s “look.”)
The Twitter animation is the only thing holding my attention at this point.
Introduced to the social network by his precocious son Percy (the excellent Emjay Anthony), he tries to staunch the contagion by tweeting a wounded insult which adds fuel to the fire. Now, it’s on like Donkey Kong!
Casper begins to prepare the menu he initially intended. Riva, clearly the most developmentally disabled restaurant owner ever ( …on second thought), doesn’t make the connection between Casper’s tweet announcing a new menu and the most reservations his restaurant has ever had, and orders Casper to cook the crappy food he thinks everyone has come for or leave.
Casper quits (?) and goes home to cook his dream menu, the menu that channels his life spirit! Here we get the food porn scenes à la 9 1/2 Weeks. Once I saw the savory dishes, I couldn’t wait for Casper to tweet them to the critic at the moment he was eating crappy food. That would have been the most logical move, right? Wouldn’t he want to show him what he was missing and let him know he wasn’t in the restaurant’s kitchen?
There is an impulse of pride, but it manifests clumsily. No tweets, but Casper hightails it to meet the critic at the restaurant. Now, I’m looking forward to the moment when Casper runs into the restaurant with his delectable creations to prove he’s got the chops (ha ha, non?). Another feint. No, Casper comes to the restaurant to confront the critic sans food to have a breakdown. The cringeworthy scene is captured on everyone’s phone and disseminated over the internets.
His sous-chef Tony (Bobby Cannavale) called it: he really is an Amuse-Douche. While Casper has failed to win back his credibility, he’s become the most famous chef in the world, which some people would consider an accomplishment.
One of those is his insanely beautiful wife Inez, (S0fia Vergara) who connects him with her tanned-to-a-crisp publicist (the frighteningly spot-on Amy Sedaris). She won’t accept his no to an appearance on Hell’s Kitchen. Cool, I can’t wait for this cookoff!
What’s up with this movie? I’ve read such glowing reviews, but I’m getting frustrated with these bluffs.
It doesn’t get better when Casper goes to Miami with his wife and son in the official capacity as his son’s nanny.
The trio go to see her father perform and then have dinner at Versailles, a Cuban restaurant clearly identified in an exterior shot. As Casper is moaning in ecstasy over his food, he finds inspiration. I’m paraphrasing the plot forwarding question he poses to his wife: “Do you really think this food will be popular in L.A.?”
Hmmm, I’m not sure. There are only four outposts of the Versailles restaurant in L.A. Not that he does any research beyond his own palate.
Inez has set up a meeting with her ex-husband. It’s Ironman! He’s slumming in an indie! Whatta guy! Do you get it? Do you? The actor playing Casper in real life is the guy who directed …..
Ironman and Favreau then swagger through an acting exercise disguised as a scene, dribbling dialogue the way the Harlem Globetrotters dribble basketballs. The showing off is a real turning off.
Ironman only has time for one and a half scenes, so he can’t stick around to clean up the grease-embalmed food truck he gives (?) to Casper. In the space of one day, he cleans up and outfits the truck with his son, making me feel bad that I can’t get through filing my papers and cleaning my apartment in the same space of time.
When is this movie going to get good? Where’s the FOOD? (I’m miming banging my knife and fork on the table like the child I never was.)
Then, his restaurant buddy Martin (John Leguizamo) shows up unannounced, just in time to drive the truck cross-country to Los Angeles. He’s there to help Casper realize his dream! And he gets the truck painted! Can Percy come? Reluctantly, Casper agrees once Mom says yes.
With a fresh coat of paint and music blasting, now it’s a road movie!
They traverse the southeast in a piece of shit with a soundtrack to match – no disrespect intended towards Mathieu Schreyer, NPR’s KCRW music Jefe who curated the selections. You will hear the worst versions ever of “Bustin’ Loose,” “I Like It Like That,” and the most painful but not unfunny, “Sexual Healing.”
The movie is at its halfway point, or the entrée (sic) course in restaurant years. Here, it finally figures out what story it wants to tell. That story is a warm, unpretentious one of a father accepting his paternal role towards his son. Percy becomes an integral member of the El Jefe truck team- in fact as the social media Jefe, he is instrumental in the truck’s successful journey to the west coast. It is a credit to Mr. Favreau that he doesn’t let Percy’s considerable contributions overshadow or unbalance his relationship with Casper.
Just as Casper needed to clarify to Michel that the interior of his chocolate lava cake is MOLTEN! not RAW!, Le Movie Snob is elucidating that Chef is a movie about a father and son bonding, NOT! food. It’s a mucho goodo movie, not a greato one.
If you decide to déguste this movie, be sure to stay for the final course: the credits reveal who taught (or didn’t) Favreau how to make a grilled cheese sandwich.