Review: ‘Chef,’ A Tasty Fantasy

Jon Favreau's 'Chef' (Open Road Films)
Jon Favreau’s ‘Chef’ (Open Road Films)
A fantasy about food, family, and social media, Chef is a pleasant confection served up in an appetizing manner. The service is a bit slow, but the food is tasty when it arrives.

Writer, director, and star Jon Favreau, who lately has found gainful employment making impersonal, big-budget extravaganzas, returns to his indie roots to tell the story of Carl Casper, a chef who has lost his way. Once he turned heads with his culinary abilities, but he has fallen into a rut serving the same, albeit popular, menu at a high-priced Los Angeles restaurant owned by Riva (Dustin Hoffman), who doesn’t want Carl to change a thing. Meanwhile, Carl has become distant with his son Percy (Emjay Anthony), who is steadily losing hope that he still plays an important role in his father’s life.

Things come to a head when “the most important restaurant critic in Los Angeles” (Oliver Platt) gives the restaurant a bad review, singling out Carl for some bitingly personal comments, and prompting him to start a flame war via social media. Carl ends up out of a job and, eventually, in Miami watching Percy while his ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) conducts some business. She’s been urging him to get a food truck and cook the kind of food he wants to cook, and finally he capitulates after Inez’s ex-husband Marvin (Robert Downey Jr.) gives him one.

Naturally enough, Carl is so talented that his food truck becomes an instant sensation. Naturally enough, Percy is such a social media whiz that the food truck becomes an instant sensation wherever it stops on a road trip from Miami to Los Angeles. Naturally enough, plenty of delicious-looking food is served, everyone loves it, and family bonds are strengthened.

If this all sounds pro-forma, a string of episodes allowing Favreau to expound upon his philosophy of life, love of food, and discomfort with criticism, well, it is. Yet Favreau is a convivial host, and he’s called upon his friends — those already noted, as well as John Leguizamo, Scarlett Johansson, Bobby Cannavale, and more — to fill out the cast with sincere and palpable camaraderie. Life lessons are gently imparted with a light touch; the episodes are peppered with humor and seasoned with a spirit of generosity

Chef may be a familiar dish, but it’s cooked with honesty, integrity, and good ingredients. That makes it a welcome addition to any film lover’s menu.

The film opens today at the Angelika Film Center in Dallas, AMC NorthPark 15, and Cinemark West Plano and XD.

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