365 Movies By Day Reviews of Movies I Watch that I Feel Like Writing About


Chef (2014)

The feel good movie of the year so far and one that completely flew under the radar (despite its 88% fresh rating and $31 million box office gross) without a question is Chef, a movie written, directed, and starring Jon Favreau. Yes, that Jon Favreau. The same guy that you've seen in character roles in movies like Swingers, The Wolf of Wall Street, John Carter, Elf, and the Iron Man franchises for the last 20 years. Unbeknownst to me until a couple of days ago is that he is an accomplished director. He's directed Iron Man, Iron Man 2, and Elf among others. All three of this movies were satisfying movies that earned will over $150 million at the box office. I enjoyed all three of these movies. And while I would still rank the first Iron Man as his best film, Chef is an absolute gem. It is heartwarming, funny, poignant, and original. It does for 2014 what The Way, Way Back did for 2013. Both movies were lesser known. Each earned about the same amount of money at the box office. And each had about the same rating on Rotten Tomatoes. While I was a big, big fan of The Way, Way Back, there was something about Chef that has reserved a permanent place in my 2014 Top Ten list.

This is certainly not the most complex screenplay in the world. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find a simpler movie with a simpler premise. Carl (Favreau) works as a chef at a local restaurant in Los Angeles. He likes being a chef, but is dissatisfied in his current place of employment  because he doesn't have the power to change up the menu and create dishes that inspire his creativity. He's been at the same restaurant for a decade and the few times where he has had the chance to switch up his menu, the customers didn't order those items. So instead of continuing to try new recipes, Carl is relegated to churning out the same items that sell the best. While the kitchen is his, ultimately the menu is not. What keeps him going is that Martin (John Leguizamo - Ice Age, The Happening) and Bobby Cannavale (Blue Jasmine, Win Win) the two  cooks who work under him at the restaurant are two of his very best friends. He has a son in middle school named Percy who he loves, but who he doesn't know how to be the best dad to. Carl is an excellent chef, but that is really the only place that he excels. He tries in the other areas of his life, but sometimes comes up short. He seems to have a great relationship with his ex-wife Inez (Sofía Vergara - television's Modern Family) who Percy lives with. Though their relationship isn't really a major focal point in the movie, I'm glad it was included. I felt like the relationship between Carl and Inez was awesome. They both love Percy and really respect each other. You could tell that there were some wounds in the past, but that their relationship was, at one point, built on a solid foundation of love and that that love, at least in some degree, is still present. Percy is a very loved child whose parents are no longer in love with each other, but who still care for each other. As a result, Percy is much better off than than he would be if his parents argued all of the time or undermined one another.

Ultimately though this movie is about pursuing a dream. After restaurant critic Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt - Flatliners, Kill the Messenger) blasts Carl's cuisine (food that Carl himself didn't choose), Carl goes on a tirade that his captured on camera and instantly goes viral while also engaging in a war of words on Twitter. It should be noted that Carl doesn't understand Twitter and thought his attack on Ramsey was just going to him (like an email) and not on a public wall for the entire world to see. Nonetheless, he did put the words out there and soon there is a no holds barred battle going on between Carl and Ramsey. Ultimately this leads to Carl quitting his job at the restaurant. A down and out Carl then is convinced to give his dream of cooking whatever food he wants and making all of his own decisions by pursuing a food truck. He returns to his native Miami and begins creating Cuban-inspired meals. Most importantly, he can pick and choose his meals and he can change it on a moment's notice. This is where the movie really takes off. I don't have much experience with a food truck and I'm guessing that this is the first feature film that has ever revolved around one, but it seems like working a quality food truck can be kind of stressful. It seems like you have to shop every morning for the ingredients you'll need for the day and need to budget how much to purchase based on factors such as where your food truck is located, the season, the weather forecast on a particular day, etc. And then the peak hours from probably 11-2 each day are probably super stressful in terms of getting quality food to the patrons in the shortest amount of time possible. But some people thrive on that and Carl wants to see if he is one of those people.

The movie isn't your traditional comedy, but it's absolutely hilarious in its own way. My favorite type of comedies tends to be the raunchy type. I really enjoy movies like Hall Pass, Old School, Knocked Up, Meet the Parents, etc. Chef is a much smarter comedy and I loved that about it. Favreau is absolutely hysterical. I never would have thought that he had it in him to be a leading man, but he has certainly shown he has what it takes. He is super talented and has crafted a movie that, I think, can be enjoyed all kinds of different audiences. Favreau also didn't hold back in terms of using his Hollywood contacts to get his fair share of A list actors to show up for one or two scenes here or there. In addtion to Vergara, Leguizamo, Cannavale, and Platt, he landed Dustin Hoffman (Kramer vs Kramer, Rain Man) as the greedy restaurant manager who could care less about the artistry of the food and only concerned with the revenue generated each night, Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man, Chaplin) as the eccentric business man and ex-husband of his ex-wife who gives Carl his beat up food truck, and Scarlett Johansson (Match Point, Lost in Translation) as the hostess of the restaurant that Carl works at. This talented ensemble, in addition to the simplistic, but heartwarming story, the charming humor, and the beautiful imagery of all of the delicious food all help make Chef the most underrated movie of the year and one that should be seen by everyone.

Plot 9/10
Character Development 9/10
Character Chemistry 10/10
Acting 9/10
Screenplay 8.5/10
Directing 9/10
Cinematography 9/10
Sound 9/10
Hook and Reel 9/10
Universal Relevance 10/10 (I think most of us at one point think about dropping whatever our job is and pursuing what our ultimate passion is. Far fewer of us do this because of the risks involved. I think a movie such as Chef will encourage more people to pursue the chance)

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  1. I haven’t been able to see many of the films that you have reviewed, so it was nice to stumble on one that I just recently watched as well.

    This movie was both up to expectation and cheesy at the same time. It’s reviews had put it on a course where I wanted to see it while in the theaters (which doesn’t happen all that often), and despite the fact that we never made it while showing on the screen, I was excited to land it for a movie night at home. Having become a foodie of sorts, following that world fairly closely, I had heard about it while in development…and never read a poor review.

    It was predictable, unbelievable/unrealistic, and as mentioned before: cheesy…which is the recipe for almost any romantic-comedy meets coming-of-age. I enjoyed it though. However, I am unclear if the setting was different than cooking, if I would still have liked it. The acting was good, and the script was fair. I do agree on your summation of Favreau’s directing and acting abilities.

    On a side note, since Season 3 (if memory serves) of Boardwalk Empire, I have a really hard time seeing Bobby Cannavale in anything.

    I would score it a 7.5/10

    –Keep up the awesome reviews. I love them.

    • Thanks for the comment! I think my biggest reason for liking as much as I did was the surprise factor. When I saw the title “Chef” for whatever reason my mind told me I wasn’t going to like it. I hadn’t even seen a preview. I may have actually thought it was a documentary.

      I agree that if the setting was something other than cooking if I would have liked it as much either. I did really enjoy Favreau’s inability to comprehend the various social media.

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