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Movie review: Chef offers food for the soul

After all the junk food that is normally dished out by Hollywood biggies, Jon Favreau's multi-hyphenated return to his indie roots will remind you of comfort food from home, say critics. This film will leave you ravenously hungry despite all that popcorn.

movie reviews Updated: Jun 20, 2014 12:29 IST
Jyoti Sharma Bawa

A Sunday afternoon lunch at home, which -- despite its simplicity - is deeply and wholly satisfying. That's Jon Favreau's Chef for you.

Director: Jon Favreau

Cast: Jon Favreau, Sofia Vergara, John Leguizamo, Dustin Hoffman, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey Jr, Emjay Anthony.

Rating: ***1/2

The actor-director who is today associated with Iron Man franchise (he acted in all three, directed the first two films) more than his 2008 indie film Swingers, returns to his roots.

Read Robert Downey Jr designs posters for Chef

"As writer, director, producer and actor, Jon Favreau has toiled for so long on the epic Hollywood battlefields of the Iron Man franchise and Cowboys & Aliens that you may forget his unique indie start with Swingers and Made. Chef marks Favreau's triumphant return to personal filmmaking. It's an artful surprise and an exuberant gift. Once you get past the big names in the cast, Chef sits you down to the modest pleasures of a dish served with simplicity and loving finesse. It's one from the heart," writes Peter Travers, film reviewer of Rolling Stone.

Favreau stars as Carl Casper, the chef at a successful LA restaurant. A workaholic, he has a broken relationship with his wife (Modern Family's Sofia Vergara) and 11-year-old son Percy (Emjay Anthony). He is also stuck in a rut as the owner (Dustin Hoffman) of his restaurant forces him to dish up 'safe' food.

One day, much-feared food blogger Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt) comes visiting and Casper is again forced by the owner to serve tried-and-tested menu staples. The result is a scathing review to which Carl responds on social media and a Twitter war ensues.

Carl is left unemployed. To get his mojo back, he gets on to a refurbished food truck, supplied by his wife's ex-husband (a cameo by Robert Downey Jr) with his son and friend by his side.

So, does this film on food get the food right?

You can bet your last sandwich that this is just the food porn we all lust for. As Michael O'Sullivan of The Washington Post writes, "The food shots in this movie are absolutely incredible. Sequences filmed on the truck - which Carl picks up in Miami and drives back to LA via New Orleans, Austin and other foodie meccas - are the kind of culinary porn that you see on the Food Network. One scene featuring the brisket at Austin's Franklin Barbecue focuses so sensuously on a knife cutting through the char of the meat to its tender pink center that I almost had to look away in embarrassment."

The experience is equally satisfying in terms of story and performances. The film boasts of a terrific cast and all of them bring in their A-game. As Gary Goldstein of LA Times says, "Favreau has been blessed with a terrific supporting cast, all of whom hit their sweet spots here. In addition to expert turns by Hoffman, Downey Jr, Leguizamo and an especially appealing Vergara, Bobby Cannavale and Scarlett Johansson are tops as Carl's old restaurant co-workers, while Amy Sedaris is a riot as a persistent publicist. Kudos as well to young Anthony, who's adorable, natural and winning; he and Favreau share some wonderful father-son bonding moments."

The filmmaker has put in hard work to ensure that the film is based in reality and recreates the life of a chef. "Favreau worked hard to replicate an authentic restaurant world, and it shows in every frame that involves chopping, dicing, slicing, sautéing or otherwise cooking… All the elements are there: the rapport among the kitchen staff on a big night; the joy and self-expression found in hard work even when you're so busy you barely have time to look up; the nurturing sensuality inherent in making food for someone else," writes Connie Ogle of Miami Herald.

What's not lost in all of this is the essential human story of a father and son bonding. "The filmmaker largely eschews done-to-death family dynamics, forced obstacles and predictable responses for authentic interaction, organic humor and a hopeful vitality. (The vibrant, Latin-infused soundtrack adds much to the film's infectiousness.)," sums up Goldstein.