Chef is written, directed and stars Jon Favreau. That combination doesn’t always work, but Favreau pulls it off with this warm-hearted and funny road movie about Carl Casper, a chef (Favreau) in Los Angeles who is frustrated by the lack of control he has over what he can cook. His ex-wife (played by Sofia Vergara from Modern Family) cons him into taking a trip with her and his son to Miami and there she encourages him to consider getting his own food truck, which her ex-husband Marvin (a priceless cameo by Robert Downey, Jr.) just happens to be able to provide. And away we go, with the heart of the story not focusing on Carl’s success as a chef but on his relationship with his 10-year-old son, Percie, whom he has largely neglected in his obsession to be a successful chef.
A number of scenes in Chef didn’t quite work for me, but overall this is a wonderful film full of eccentric flawed characters who are all good people trying as best they can. It’s a rare kind of film that feels natural but doesn’t need to be dark; instead, it’s full of light, optimistic humanization. It’s all done in a way that feels real (not Hollywood), with great natural acting, great locations and a plot that moves with a slow quirky pace all its own. Some will of course find that boring. Chef isn’t very deep but its insights are good.
Of particular note is Carl’s clash with a food critic, played by Oliver Platt. Without the scenes involving the critic, Chef gets a solid ***, but those scenes are worth half a star by themselves, especially if you add in the ‘cameo’ scenes involving Marvin and Molly (Scarlett Johansson), so I am giving Chef ***+ and recommend it to all.