I love food films, whether the obvious (Babbette’s Feast, Eat Drink Man Woman and its Latin analog Tortilla Soup) or the extreme (The Cook, The Thief, his Wife, and Her Lover, Delicatessen), or something in between (The Lunchbox, Vatel). There is something about the primacy of food, the creation of it, the heart of it that always draws me in. It may also just be that I love food and cooking (don’t believe me… check out the Iron Chef party we used to throw for several years)
Chef, as much as I enjoyed it, is a middling film that is perfectly fine. Or, as one friend put it, it is entertaining if not filling. And, yes, I wish I had thought of that myself. Flaws aside, there are some aspects of the movie that are worth noting.
Favreau (Iron Man 3) is an astounding triple threat in this bit of cinema: writer, director, and lead. That he managed all of this makes the results of his effort, however uneven, impressive. His writing was the weakest of the ouput; the dialogue is a bit clunky at times and the plot a bit weak in construction. His acting, as always, is sufficient as an imperfect, but passionate man who needs to find his path. However, his directing shines solidly in a couple places.
The real benefactors of the directing are Anthony (Rake) as his son and Vergara (Modern Family) as the mysteriously successful ex-wife. In a real way, this is really more Anthony’s movie than anyone else’s, despite him not having the screen as often. Certainly, he has the most affecting story. Vergara, while a side character, comes across as both real and strong in a way that I’ve never seen in her work before. Both of these performances, not to mention Platt’s (The Oranges) were heavily guided by Favreau’s directing, whether by influence or in specific. He kept them all reined in and real despite the opportunities for histrionics.
If you haven’t caught it yet, the film really is worth a watch with someone you care about. I don’t know that it deserved all the noise it made when it hit the festival circuit, but it is an impressive passion project from a man who has directed some of the most successful films in history, showing he can, indeed, move from blockbuster to intimate film confidently; that he really does understand story.