A terribly unheralded film (among The Islands, at least) sneaks past Optimus Prime and dishes out glorious close ups of food and its achingly beautiful prep processes through a surprisingly grounded film, given its stellar lineup, of loss and redemption with a mean side of a great OST.
I was itching to catch the latest installment of the Transformers franchise when a single promotional banner for the movie, Chef, caught our eyes. Food movie. ‘Nuff said. Choice made, tickets and a Tater’s Sugar-free Green Tea in a Super cup purchased, we settled into an almost empty theater with a handful of Senior Citizens taking advantage of their government-mandated discounts to nap in air-conditioned comfort to the lull of “white noise”.
“When Chef Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) suddenly quits his job at a prominent Los Angeles restaurant after refusing to compromise his creative integrity for its controlling owner (Dustin Hoffman), he is left to figure out what’s next. Finding himself in Miami, he teams up with his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara), his friend (John Leguizamo), and his son to launch a food truck. Taking to the road, Chef Carl goes back to his roots to reignite his passion for the kitchen—while using social media as a true partner in its success.” (movie blurb)
The movie opened with Favreau slicing and dicing produce with convincing professional precision and flair. Hardcore foodporn sequences followed in the well-timed gaps provided for those in a storyline that went down light and easy. That Grilled Three(or more) – Cheese Sandwich sequence alone showed that on top of Cheddar, Monterey Jack and (whutt?!) Mozarella, like the movie, the food was made with as much devotion and love as the actual ingredients.
Packed with heavyweights many would say were underused, the film managed to cast powerhouses in supporting roles they played out with subtlety and restraint while nailing their character’s purpose in the story. Scarlett Johansson’s we-got-something-going-on-but-we-gotta-keep-it-professional interactions with Favreau gave us enough to click our tongue on without going deep into a subplot. A sequence where she enjoyed watching Favreau prepare some pasta and her humming in appreciation brought up the temperatures without even skirting the gratuitous bed scene. Sexy with everything kept on.
Sofia Vergara reined in her usual crazy but still brought on flavor. Dustin Hoffman played down the easy Gordon Ramsey while still holding a firm foot down. Robert Downey Jr. gave a very nuanced, comic performance — a more real-world Tony Stark–as Vergara’s first ex-husband in a single scene which also already told enough of his characters story and necessity without spinning into so many other establishing scenes. Amy Sedaris hit out strong and good in a fast-paced phone conversation scene which was a Public Relations: Social Media Crisis Management lesson in less than five minutes. John Leguizamo delivered in a role he already made his own over the years — Sancho Panza to every Quixote lead.
I find it hard to continue without giving out too much of the movie, if I haven’t already. The food shots alone are worth the tickets. As I have learned from movies in the recent years, it pays to sit through the credits. The bonus scene was the extended cameo of THE Roy Choi coaching Favreau through the Grilled Cheese Sandwich sequence. Poetry.
Immashutupnow. Watch it.