Chef is an honest & true feel-good movie that avoids contriving its script with unnecessary drama and cliched road blocks, instead filling its run time with director Jon Favreau's trademarked touch of wit and humor.
I had my reservations going into this film. Of the smaller films to be released in 2014, this one was the most recommended to me. I intended to see it in theaters, but something held me back from seeing it on the big screen. What feels strange to me was that I was more excited, literally excited, to see that it was on Netflix and I was able to watch it at home than I was with the concept of sitting in a theater. The reason this small-screen format seemed so fitting for me to view the film coincided with how the film's story coincidentally played out: A fancy, world-renowned restaurant chef finds his career in dire straits amidst a heated Twitter battle with a famous food critic, only to find serenity and happiness in beginning anew in his own food truck, with his son and best friend in tow. The character's change from upscale to downscale and finding happiness in his new surroundings (while watching his internet infamy dissolve as he finds time to make repairs his life) on a much smaller scale.seemed fitting that the film most likely played better on the small screen.
Jon Favreau (director, writer, and star) has created another film that fits well amidst his other smaller-scale projects (writer of Swingers, and writer/director of Made), and his larger scale Marvel creations (director/writer of the first two Iron Man films). His return to the smaller film is much appreciated as his true skill is put on display. The research put in to make the cooking and ins-and-outs of being a chef are astounding, as is the entire cast's enthusiasm for keeping the film rich with character. The food itself is, at times, like a character of its own - you can almost taste the buttery-breaded sandwiches and the slow-cooked meats they so lovingly try before serving to customers.
This is the kind of film I enjoy on a whole-hearted level to the point where I don't like to break down the little details of the story, because the film isn't necessarily about the story. There's a setup to get Favreau's chef character out of the high-end life where his relationship with his son and his ex-wife are secondary, and into a life where not only can he reinvent himself, but bond with the son he barely knows. The reason I enjoyed the film was because Favreau knows that is the reason the film exists, and adding any other bits of story and drama for the characters to overcome would be overwrought at best.
Chef made me feel good, and is a film that hopefully starts a new trend of showing families repairing themselves rather than accepting their destruction. Looking back at other estranged-family "feel good" films, I can compare the family element to 1994s The Santa Clause, where the parents are divorced and the kid is caught in the middle, with only the relationship with the child and father repairing but the parents keeping things awkward with each other. While this is a realistic matter that many children faced and still face today, it still carries an air of darkness and depression that seemed like every film from the 90s followed - especially in movies deemed as "family friendly" or "good hearted" in nature. While Chef is an R-rated comedy, it still shows that sometimes there's not always bad things around the corner, and despite its rating, could prove to be even more acceptable for children to watch and be inspired by than many of the lie-riddled, PG-rated family affairs of 90s and up to today.
Chef is a film for food lovers, film lovers, Favreau lovers, and just about everyone who's looking for a feel-good movie to watch while wondering what to do at home, bored with their lives and dealing with their "brat" kids.
While I though Jon Favreau was short-sighted by the Academy for his work on Swingers, this film deserved just as much proposed Oscar praise for its script, but was sadly overlooked. Stay for the credits, because there's one behind-the-camera scene where an actual chef is teaching Jon how to make a grilled cheese sandwich, and what he has to say at the end is perfect for more things than just cooking food.
Currently on NETFLIX.