I tried something different for picking a matinee this week. I had no idea what was playing at the local Cineplex, so I just decided to show up and choose something that began close to the time I arrived.
That was a big mistake. I wouldn’t recommend potpourri movie pickin’. I ended up watching some film called “Neighbors”. It is marketed internationally as “Bad Neighbors”.
If the studio releasing it had cared about truth in advertising they would have called it “Bad Flick”. I walked out after about 20 minutes and should have left earlier.
But all’s well that ends well. I decided to walk into the next available film that looked halfway palatable. Starting in 5 minutes was something called “Chef”. After viewing it, my faith in Hollywood was restored.
From the pictures and title I thought I might be watching some reality show from the Food Network. I didn’t care. After a tough week at work, I just needed a mind break. I got much more from “Chef”.
As the movie began, I would say to myself “this is good”. As it progressed, I added more favorable remarks and smiled often. It was nice to have landed in a good movie home and be rid of the unneighborly flick next door.
In “Chef”, Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) is a head chef at a Los Angeles restaurant owned by a man named Riva (Dustin Hoffmann). Although Carl claims his deal with Riva includes culinary freedom, the owner intervenes when well-known food critic and blogger Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt) announces plans to visit.
Carl wants to plan a unique meal that will wow the critic. Although Riva technically tells Carl to do what he wants, he strong arms the chef into cooking from the standard menu.
Once a big fan of Carl when he worked at a restaurant in Miami, Michel fries Carl in the media. He gives the restaurant two stars and the review goes viral on Twitter.
Through his pre-adolescent son Percy, Carl learns how to tweet. He sends an insulting message to Michel which he thought was private, and the tweet creates an online war between the two. In a short time Carl has 20,000 followers.
The war then goes nuclear. Carl and the critic have a very public dustup on camera and social media makes an unwilling reality star out of Carl, who loses his cool during the spat, and his job as well.
What happens next will make those who want to fulfill their dreams feel their heart go pitter-pat. Reluctantly, Carl decides to takes his ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) up on an offer to help supervise Percy while she goes on a work trip to Miami. While there, she puts him in touch with husband number one, who assists him with starting a business operating a food truck.
What seems like a real come down for the chef instead becomes the road to professional and personal healing. His truck, featuring his own creative Cuban sandwiches (Cubanos) takes off.
Percy is invited to help out in the truck gets. On the road trip of a lifetime, the boy gets some real father-son mentoring, too, and sees his father’ s heart.
When Percy appears to not care about the art of cooking the Cubanos, Carl strongly rebukes him. He informs the lad that, yes, he could have been a better husband and father, but this…well “this” he does well. “ I touch people”, he tells the boy.
This statement is the key to “Chef”. When Carl decides to live authentically, his life takes off. He had to be pushed into having the courage to be true to his gifts, but in the end it is worth it.
I knew nothing about Favreau before “Chef”. He is known mostly for directing and producing, and a stint on “Friends”, which I have never watched.
Favreau creates an excellent portrayal of a man who is enduring loss in his life. He gives to the part a myriad of emotions. One minute he is angry and full of rage. The next minute he seems confused. At another time, he takes joy in seemingly small things.
Oliver Platt I remember from his days on “Murphy Brown” 20 years ago. His quirky personality and features make him a natural as a cynical movie critic.
However, I had difficulty with Sofia Vergara’s Inez. I probably have seen her too often in the TV sitcom “Modern Family” and have her typecast in that role. It took most of the film for me to forget that she wasn’t Gloria Prichett.
Even so, she did add her Colombian flare to a distinctly Latin film. Ironically,at lunch, prior to finishing work and heading to the cinema, I had watched the Colombia team play in the World Cup. I loved their little dances after they scored.
The featuring of Latino music, food and culture was one of the favorite aspects of the flick for me. Even though I snuck snacks into the theater, I still began drooling as Carl showed Percy how t o cook the first Cubano, slathering it with butter. They looked delicious!
If you can overlook some unneeded crassness, “Chef” has a lot to offer: meddling police, Cuban and New Orleans music, the effects of divorce, and a workplace flirtation between Flavreau’s Casper and Scarlett Johansson, playing restaurant hostess Molly. The banality took away somewhat from the film, but it was far better than what I saw in “Neighbors”.
The foodie will definitely enjoy the film. So will those who have an interest in crossing cultures. Mostly though, it’s for the person who has seen their dreams crushed. “Chef” may give them an impetus to find their own road to a better life.