SXSW FILM 2014
By Linc Leifeste | March 17, 2014
Director: John Favreau
Writer: John Favreau
Starring: John Favreau, John Leguizamo, Emjay Anthony, Scarlett Johannson, Sofia Vergara, Dustin Hoffman, Bobby Cannavale, Amy Sedaris, Oliver Platt, Robert Downey Jr.
From the outside, it appears that Chef Carl Casper (John Favreau) is on top of the world, with a long-running gig as respected chef at a trendy Los Angeles restaurant. But the truth of the matter is that Casper is in a rut, tired of playing it safe with the same old menu and longing to exercise some creativity. So when a feared food critic and online blogger (Oliver Platt) writes a scathing review, Casper decides its time to follow his heart and change up the menu. So he invites him back for another go-round. Unfortunately, while Casper rules his kitchen, he doesn’t own it and the man who does own the restaurant (Dustin Hoffman) lets it be known that a new menu is not an option, leading to a highly embarrassing public meltdown for Casper, who walks out on his job.
Relying on the financial kindness of his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara) and her first husband (Robert Downey, Jr.), Casper ends up buying a food truck and along with the help of a chef that follows him (John Leguizamo), rekindles his love for creativity and cooking. In the process, he also reconnects with his son, who he was in danger of estranging through his distracted half-assed fathering.
Serving as a thinly veiled metaphor for director Favreau’s film career, which started with respected films Swingers and Made before eventually producing the blockbuster Iron Man films and the widely panned Cowboys & Aliens, it’s clear that Chef is an attempt to get back to making a smaller film that the director feels passionately about. And it’s a welcome change. But while it’s a well-cast, fun, sweet road trip film, Chef is ultimately a bit light, with the female characters feeling underwritten and serving mainly as cheerleaders for Casper’s creative abilities.
And by the time Casper and his son wind up on a food truck road-trip from Miami back to LA, via New Orleans and Austin, the film begins to feel overly romanticized and a bit simplistic. And while I love the idea of someone rediscovering their passion and heading in a new direction, I’m not sure that the story of a guy rekindling his passion because he’s in a position to receive the financial support to make it happen from an ex-wife and her first husband, is the most inspiring of tales for those not in such an enviable position. Still, it’s sure a fun trip. And, of course, it didn’t hurt that I screened it with a South by Southwest crowd, who truly appreciated the food truck’s romp through Austin.