Chef might be my favorite film of 2014. It’s not the best, most technical film. I didn’t break new ground in cinematography; it didn’t have an actor contorting himself into a wholly different persona; it didn’t hit new heights of sexuality; and it won’t win Best Picture this Oscars Season. But I think it’s my favorite anyway–it’s just a joyful film. From the addictive, upbeat soundtrack to the redemptive relationship between a nearly estranged father and son, it hits on all cylinders. It’s a truly heartwarming film, yet it doesn’t fall into the cheesy category, something that I think has been missing of late.
Jon Favreau, the always exceptional writer, director, and lead, goes even further by going back to his indie roots. Favreau is Carl Casper, the lauded head chef of a successful LA restaurant, and he’s about to be reviewed by the notorious, pretentious food critic and vicious blogger Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt). When Carl’s boss (Dustin Hoffman) won’t let him bring in a new menu to wow the critic, despite the fact that Carl feels he’s grown creatively stagnant, he is eviscerated by Michel. This leads to a Twitter war (a nice motif running throughout the film), then a loud public meltdown. Carl has long been a workaholic (as many chefs are), which led to a divorce from his wife Inez (Sofía Vergara) and to little contact with his son Percy (Emjay Anthony). He travels with them to Miami after he loses his job, where Inez finally talks him into buying a food truck. Carl, along with Percy and his former sous chef (John Leguizamo), travel from Miami back to LA, selling Cuban sandwiches, reinvigorating Carl’s passion for food, as well as reforging his relationship with his son along the way.
At times, Chef exemplifies what Anthony Bourdain has called food porn, where the audience salivates over every lingering shot. It is an ode to delicious, beautiful food and how it brings people together. More than simply loving the idea of food, Chef illustrates food’s central place in so many cultures and families. It at first tore Carl’s family apart because he made it about the business of food. His time was spent working on the construction of food, rather than on his passion for it, and his family suffered and broke apart for it. He needed to rekindle that relationship, and it is food that does it. He becomes a good dad, teaching his son about his passion, about how to work for it and not lose yourself in it.
It’s rare enough these days to get a touching film that is also well made. Something that exemplifies the reality of family life and the sacrifices that a father must make in order to keep his family together, and that you’re never too far gone to come back home.