Review: CHEF (2014 SXSW)

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

After directing summer popcorn fare in Iron Man, Iron Man 2 and Cowboys and Aliens, Jon Favreau has decided to return to his roots in a smaller indie project. Chosen as the opening night film for SXSW 2014, Chef brought my SXSW Film to a delightful start. The film tells a story about a  once acclaimed chef in need of some major changes in his life and career. Favreau has come up with a smart and charming film that serves as an analogy for his own recent struggles in his filmmaking career.

After working with a limited menu at an upscale Los Angeles restaurant for several years, Carl (Favreau) has lost his passion for cooking. His latest review by a food critic blogger basically is the last straw. After refusing to comply with the restaurant owner’s (Dustin Hoffman) wishes, Carl quits and reinvents himself by starting a food truck in Miami. He, his assistant chef (John Leguizamo) and his son Percy (Emjay Anthony) decide to take the drive the truck cross-country back to L.A. and prove that he can still make delicious and exciting food.

When this film opens in theaters, I highly recommend that people go see it. Written, directed and starring Favreau, the story about a chef who needs to return to his roots, mirrors the film career of Favreau. Favreau, who achieved acclaim and success with the first Iron Man, followed by the mixed reviews of Iron Man 2 and not too favorable ones of Cowboys and Aliens, probably needed to go smaller and simpler with a character driven piece to revive his love and passion for filmmaking. With the obvious heart he put into this movie, Favreau is back.

The structure of the story offers few surprises, but the heart and passion for Favreau to express himself on a more personal level is undeniable.  Swingers introduced the world to Jon Favreau and the struggles and insecurities of a man trying to successfully make it in Hollywood.  Chef now simply shows his fans and detractors what he goes through as a bigger name in the industry. The analogy is a bit obvious, but it is not delivered in a heavy handed manner.

The charm and wit of Favreau and his characters is ever present. I suppose it helps that his cast consists of some likable and charismatic talent, including a few of his good friends. Chef features lovable performances by John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale, Scarlet Johannson, Sofia Vergara, and Oliver Platt. Newcomer Emjay Anthony offers a sweet performance as Carl’s son Percy and Robert Downey, Jr. makes a hilarious and memorable appearance in the film as well.

This movie has received an unfortunate release date during the summer movie season, competing with blockbuster tent poles. Still, if looking for an alternative to the usual summer fare, I must highly recommend Chef. This delightful and disarming film deserves an audience.


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