I really do want to say nice things about ‘Chef.’ It’s certainly a film with its heart in the right place and there are definitely good things to be had from this warm-hearted and at times rather amusing tale.
It was written by the always excellent Jon Favreau, who plays the film’s lead, Carl Casper, a divorced, frustrated chef, trying to bring creative fulfillment to his career whilst simultaneously being the perfect father to his son Percy, played by Emjay Anthony in a sweet yet limited role.
The casting is a strange one. On the plus side, characters like Martin, Carl’s right hand man (played by John Leguizamo) lend some much needed, enthusiastic savvy to proceedings, yet a series of short cameos by Scarlett Johanssen, Dustin Hoffman and most bizarrely, a slightly megalomaniacal Robert Downey-Junior, are rather baffling; almost like token gestures in the grand scheme of this film; a heavyweight favour to the director perhaps or maybe an insistence from the film’s sponsors? Who knows.
The premise of the film is that Chef Casper’s ‘touch paper’ is lit when a renowned food critic drags his name through the mud, professionally slaughtering his menu in the process (the menu Casper had wanted to scrap but was duty-bound to serve) and the whole situation is exacerbated when Casper’s social media inadequacies lead him to inadvertently start an ever escalating, public slanging match on Twitter.
Everything comes to a head when Casper loses his marbles in front of the critic, somebody films it and the video goes viral. Needless to say, Casper’s career hits the buffers over night.
‘Chef’ should really kick-on from here and become the clever little film about work / life balance and the perils of social media in the hands of the uninitiated, that it promises to be, but it’s here in fact that it seriously loses its way.
It’s not the fact that the storyline is necessarily weak, the problem is simply that all of the good ideas in this film seem somewhat swamped beneath a rather clumsy, schmaltzy and at times contrived script and screen play which do none of the characters, no matter how well played, any favours at all. Indeed, from here on, it’s a predictable sequence of clichéd events, set pieces and scenarios with the mother of all toe-curling endings; not to mention the whole thing is basically an on going advertisement for Twitter.
The feel good film of the year?
Not for me. Feel good films whilst admittedly generally being schmaltzy, predictable affairs, rely heavily therefore on the viewer buying whole-heartedly into the characters to such an extent in fact that whatever unlikely twists and turns a plot may take along the way, it doesn’t really matter; we celebrate the unlikely or the down right ludicrous because quite frankly, we’re in for the ride!
Sadly, Chef combines predictable schmaltz with half-baked, rather forced characterisation and for all its eagerness to please, that’s just never going to work.
It’s all a bit of a shame really because there’s definitely a nice little film buried in there somewhere.
All of that said, it still has its moments and it remains worth a watch.