Last Sunday, I decided to watch a new addition to the Netflix queue that I had seen advertised quite a while ago and then heard nothing of, Chef (2014, R). Going in, I knew naught about this movie except that it was a food movie, so I didn't have any preconceived notions, despite the fact that food movies happen to be one of my favorite film genres.
First things first, though: Don't watch this movie when you're hungry, warns the trailer, and necessarily. By the time it was over, I was craving a cubano sandwich and a stuffed baked potato, the latter of which I promptly set about making and didn't finish until around 3 a.m. But I digress.
Chef Carl Casper's (Jon Favreau) true love in life is food. He's undoubtedly a fabulous cook, but after a scathing review from one of the top Los Angeles food critics when the owner of the restaurant in which he works refuses to change the menu for the purpose of being more exciting and creative, he finds himself out of a job. The critic, Ramsey (Oliver Platt), tweets the review, it goes viral, and Carl lashes back without realizing that he tweeted to the world, not just the intended recipient. Commence the maelstrom. Carl has a public meltdown, screaming full-force at Ramsey, which of course, was filmed by everyone there who had a camera on their phone... and then posted to YouTube.
Carl tries to salvage his career with no luck. His ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara), with whom he has maintained a friendship, invites him down to Miami with her and their 10-year-old boy Percy. He accepts, reluctant at first to accept her charity. Inez does truly care for Carl, and we come to find out there is an ulterior motive for her invitation - her other ex-husband owns an equipment rental business, and she brings up the suggestion she's been making for years: get a food truck! Make the food you're actually passionate about, and run your own business, your own way. She convinces him to pay the smooth-talking Marvin a visit, and soon he is back in business... and business is booking, many thanks to Percy, who happens to be a bit of a social media guru.
All in all, Chef was an alright film at its core. I liked the story quite much. The message was good. It's about a guy who's down on his luck trying to build an independent career in something he's passionate about, while restoring his reputation as an amazing chef. It's about friendship and relationships being repaired and built, especially between Percy and his dad. There's a real camaraderie in the kitchen that is portrayed throughout this film, and it was fun and enjoyable. And, it's full of food that is absolutely mouthwatering. The ending is happy and satisfying, and there was definitely a sense of closure by the end.
The real let-down was Favreau's apparent need to shove as much inappropriate humor and language into this 115-minute film as possible. It was so unnecessary. As I mentioned I had no expectations going in, but I was taken aback by the crudeness of the characters in this film. I'd get involved in a scene, and then someone would unnecessarily make an inappropriate joke or start launching f-bombs every five words. It was disheartening, especially when they did so around Percy. If they would've eliminated that from the movie (and they very well could have without affecting the plot in the slightest) it would've been excellent.
Inez's other ex-husband, Marvin (Robert Downey Jr.) is very crass and inappropriate, in keeping with most of the characters RDJ is cast. Inez and Carl discuss her past personal (read: sexual) relationship with Marvin. Carl and his best friend, Martin, sing Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" while on the road, to the proper embarrassment of 10-year-old Percy. Martin gives Percy a beer - the boy has a sip and thinks it's gross, so Carl tells him to remember that when his friends offer him alcohol. Several bikini clad women are among the throng on the food truck route through South Beach. There are sex jokes throughout. Inez wears cleavage-bearing outfits, as does Molly (Scarlett Johansson), one of Carl's closest kitchen friends, and surprisingly the person with whom he seems to be most honest. I said the movie was good at its core; but all this useless profanity and sexuality really marred it.
The final question: Would I see Chef again? Probably not. Honestly, I have no issues with the occasional profanity. Done properly, it can be comical and dare-I-say, even fitting. But so much so often for no reason whatsoever? It left me feeling like I needed a shower and possibly a trip to the confessional.
Guest Review by Iris Hanlin. She blogs at www.iris-hanlin.com