I am incredibly lucky to have seen Chef on a full stomach. Others around me weren’t quite so fortunate, and every time a gorgeously sizzling piece of enticing food appeared on screen (which was about every three seconds), the collective rumbling of empty bellies filled the cinema. May it be an entire tray of gently frying bacon, or a softly melting cheese sandwich… I’m sorry, I don’t think I’m quite over the whole experience yet.
Food porn is certainly a term that’s been used to describe writer-director-actor Jon Favreau’s latest feature – and as you may have gathered already, it’s an apt one. But just like the protagonist Chef Carl Casper’s cooking, there’s more than meets the eye. Favreau plays an ‘exciting new chef’ who unfortunately quits his job after not being allowed to stray from the set menu to be more creative while not devoting enough time to his young son. There’s an irony there – the film itself never actually seems to stray from its ‘menu’ either. It’s packed to the brim with happy montages accompanied by Spanish music and shots of gorgeous food. Again, and again, and again. But although I fully expected this to become very repetitive and tiresome (like Carl Casper believes his menu will), the massive grin on my face never faded for a second during this feel-good adventure. I still can’t quite fathom how I didn’t get annoyed and tired of Chef halfway through.
But for whatever reason, I loved it. The script is sharp and very, very funny, and the charisma and charm of the cast is absolutely through the roof. Favreau gives a loveable performance as a father and struggling chef, and the unending flood of big name cameos (Dustin Hoffman, Scarlett Johannson, a creepily hilarious Robert Downey Jr. and Russell Peters) adds the spice that this recipe needs. It also helps that every shot contains at least one deliciously-framed morsel, or quite often a full meal.
Chef is an undeniably optimistic film. Its narrative arc of learning and finding happiness never once strays into depressing territory – but despite this, it remains relatively moving. I wouldn’t laud the dialogue as incendiary, or the performances mind-blowing, but every scene is as convincing as it needs to be. And more importantly, every smile in the film leaps off the screen and onto your face. And for that, it’s not to be missed.
Sure, it flags a bit – the story seems sometimes unsure of where it’s headed, and the inclusion of a frankly unnecessary epilogue scene marred an otherwise warm and successful ending, but this doesn’t matter. Chef‘s not trying to be perfect – what it does, however, is to try and make you feel great. In today’s world, is that a bad thing? We all need a little bit of a boost, and Chef provides a massive one, with a heartwarming and universal message stapled firmly on its back. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to go eat as much food as I can.