Food trucks are in right now. This craze started a few years ago when these mobile restaurants would tweet their location and followers would appear waiting to try the latest fusion creation. They still are in, but less of an ingenious idea as the movie Chef makes you think. Taking high-end cuisine to the streets, John Favreau’s newest film Chef is a feel-good family drama that fails to leave any lasting taste in your mouth.
Coming off of directing big-budget films like the Iron Man franchise and acting in roles in Identity Thief and The Wolf of Wall Street, Favreau’s latest is a film that he is very much involved in. As the writer, director, producer, and star, Favreau plays the chef, in Chef, but even that cannot save it.
Favreau plays Carl Casper, a well-respected and famous chef in the food industry. He had made himself a household name in Miami but recently is having his menu reviewed at a classy L.A. restaurant where he is now the head chef. Forced to make a meal that he did not want, his review reflected the lackluster courses and he proceeds to get in a word war on Twitter with a food critic that loses him his job. His ex-wife, played by Sofia Vergara, offers to take him and their son on a trip to Miami where she purchases a food truck for him to start anew. His trusted friend and coworker Martin (John Leguizamo) joins up and together with his son, travel across the country tasting inspiring food that gets transferred to their menu, featuring their take on the cubano sandwich.
Once the food truck gets up and running, Chef becomes a strange road-trip movie, traveling across the country (on the wings of tweets, literally?) as they take the truck from Miami to Los Angeles. Two of the stops they make are in New Orleans and Austin, for the food of course, although they can only get to BBQ and beignets. Through social media, run by his son, their food truck starts picking up followers and by the time they are back in LA, everyone is on board, even the ex-wife.
Food is a powerful force in this film and much welcomed to the rest of the storyline. It is colorful, precise, and quite fun to watch as Casper (and Favreau) has a clear love of cooking. The scenes seem like small breaks within the film but paired with great music they become the most genuine, tangible parts, and food is something that we can understand. It is clear that food is meant to be center stage in this film as one of the co-producers is chef Roy Choi.
For how much the film seems straightforward in plot, it is incredibly misguided in where it wants to place the emotional crux. The film starts out about a man that has failed at his job, not pursuing his passion, but he is also failing as a father, never being present when he is with his son. Then they hit the road, everything works out and there is a strange love story that threads its way through the film with his ex-wife. While all of this is going on, Chef tries to be a very topical film as well. Gourmet cuisine, food trucks, social sharing, tweets, and viral celebrity make it very current. There are simply too many tangents introduced, and with half of the film in L.A. and other places on the road the plot takes large leaps to get to where it is going, making the film seem sporadic, touching only on the surface.
The reason the love story is strange in Chef is because the female leads make absolutely no sense in this world. Scarlett Johansson plays Molly, the pretty hostess at the L.A. gig, who doesn’t want to sleep with Carl as their late-night tristes might suggest. Instead she offers sage advice, hugs and moans as she eats his food - interpret how you would like. And in the second half of the film there is the ex-wife, Inez, who quite possibly is the nicest, most supportive ex-wife I have seen in any film. She funds his food-truck endeavours, allows their son to take road trips in the truck across the country, offers legal help when Carl is in trouble, helps out by working in the food truck, they never show any sexual chemistry, and yet (spoiler alert) they get re-married at the end of the film.
There is a great scene early on when Carl watches a street performer use a marionette to sing Al Green’s “I’m Too Tired of Being Alone”. At first it could be interpreted that he really is tired but with the camera so focused on this string puppet, the scene explores the details; talent, creativity and passion in one’s work. The film seems to be many small scenes that work by themselves but when strung together they do not connect even though on paper they should. And by playing into the current social culture, film becomes superficial and as fleeting as a tweet; sure there are 140 characters worth of content but not anything more.
One of the most well-loved films this summer, Chef is out now on Blu-Ray and DVD with added features including deleted scenes, audio commentary by the director and co-producer Roy Choi, and a HD digital download.