In Case You Missed It: Chef (2014)
Growing up as a fan of celebrated film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, one of my favorite treats was their recurring series of episodes entitled “Buried Treasures.” They each described a regular occurrence of stopping into the local video store and being asked by prospective film renters what was “new” to rent, instead of being asked what was “good” to rent. In response, Siskel & Ebert hosted biannual shows to highlight films that they both thought fell through the cracks and deserved a second look. Over the years such recommendations included The Last Dragon, Southern Comfort, Scandal, and Sid and Nancy, just to name a few.
Inspired by their example and their contribution to my lifelong love of film, I am starting a new series of my own entitled, you guessed: In Case You Missed It. Following the lead of my unofficial godfathers of film criticism I would like to try my best to recommend to anyone interested a few films that I feel need to be discovered and enjoyed. By no means do I consider myself the ultimate voice in film criticism or taste. I am just a lifelong movie connoisseur who has an ever growing list of films that have inspired me enough that I am compelled to talk and write about them. I hope you agree and hope I can find a few titles that you may have missed.
To start off the series I have chosen what I consider to be one of the best films of 2014, Chef. From writer-director Jon Favreau, best known for the first two Iron Man films and The Jungle Book, comes a very personal film about being stuck in a rut and rediscovering one’s true passion. The film was released to critical acclaim (it scored an 86% rating on Rotten Tomatoes) but didn’t get the wide release that I thought it deserved both because of its content and star-studded cast, including Scarlet Johannsson and about four minutes too much of Robert Downey, Jr. in a five-minute cameo.
The film follows Jon Favreau’s title character as a once promising culinary superstar who has been relegated to cooking other people’s food. Miserable working under the thumb of an unimpressed owner (Dustin Hoffman) and following an ill-advised social media battle with a popular food blogger (Oliver Platt), Favreau’s Carl Casper decides to open a food truck and cook the food that he wants to share. He is aided in this goal by a very sympathetic ex-wife played by Sofia Vergara and his best friend/sous chef played by John Leguizamo. I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that these characters are slightly shaded as Magical Negros, with Vergara providing financially backing and Leguizamo ready to drop everything at a moment’s notice to join the fun in Miami. But if you are as swept up into the film as I was you can forgive it. John Leguizamo is a magnetic presence who needs to be in more films and Sofia Vergara shows us a soft side not seen in her louder-than-life Modern Family character.
Also included in this story of redemption is a surprisingly convincing father-son story where Chef Casper reconnects with this 10 year old son, Percy, played admirably by Emjay Anthony. We watch as Percy schools his father in the ways of social media and as Chef Casper shares his life’s passion with his eager-to-learn son. In a touching scene, father presents son with his own chef’s knife and proclaims, “I may not do everything great in my life, but I'm good at this. I manage to touch people's lives with what I do and I want to share this with you.”
Speaking of sharing, this film is all about food, 114 minutes of food porn to be exact. I am still trying to figure out how the movie received an R rating since there is no sex, nudity, nor overwhelming profanity. Maybe it’s the sight of the smoke rings on a properly slow cooked brisket or the buttery goodness of the grilled Cubano sandwiches that become Chef Casper’s staple that made the MPAA pause. So, no, do not watch this film on an empty stomach. Throw in a Latin-infused soundtrack and the humor that Jon Favreau used to display in earlier works like Swingers and Made and Chef has it all.
Chef belongs in the same pantheon as great food-themed films like Babette’s Feast, Big Night, and Like Water for Chocolate. The film is a celebration of life and embracing those around us. It’s about rediscovering who you are and becoming the best version of yourself possible. As I mentioned earlier, it feels like Jon Favreau’s most personal film and more importantly feels like an apology for the substandard Iron Man 2 and abysmal Cowboys and Aliens. As someone who has spent the better part of my adult life trying to find my niche, Chef spoke to me. And who knows, maybe culinary school may be in my future. In fact, I used the Cubano sandwich recipe featured in the soundtrack jacket and catered an evening to remember for my family as we watched Chef.
Feel free to feast on Chef. I couldn’t resist.
The aforementioned Cubanos