Sunday, September 07, 2014

REVIEW: Chef (2014)

Who says a movie needs to be dark and edgy, filled with conflict, heartbreak and drama, to be taken seriously? Sure those can be quite the brain food and a good watch as well (Chris Nolan's filmography comes to mind) but can't a heartfelt uplifting movie with nothing nasty to say reach a spot on the same shelf? Although truth be told, one could read a bird being defiantly flipped between the lines of this feel-good food fest.

High-end chef Carl Casper, divorced without knowing why from a woman he still loves and father to a son he can't find time to raise, comes up to an important milestone in his career: the restaurant he works for will be reviewed by the Nikki Finke of Food named, curiously enough "Ramsey" (a slimmed-fast Oliver Platt) . Being torn apart by words is only the beginning of his end: next he'll discover Twitter, and take his meltdown viral. Now out of a job and unemployable, he finds himself at the bottom with only one way to go: across the country in a foodtruck with his most loyal friend (John Leguizamo), a son he can finally get to know, and a new appreciation of himself.

One thing can't be denied to Jon Favreau for this personal endeavour of his: he mightily challenges Box-Office mammoth Guardians of the Galaxy for best soundtrack of the year.  The Cuban-laced rythms, perfectly fitting co-star Sophia Vergara as the Jimminy Cricket of this tale, carries the tone with a fresh optimism too seldom showcased in a  year so dark at the movies that even goofy lovable nightfuryToothless was turned into a mindless killer. Tito Puente and his contemporaries infuse this movie with such delight that Marvin Gaye might find eternal peace in knowing that someone managed to make an incredibly engaging cover of Sexual Healing.

"Why the f**k are they all pouring ice on themselves? Aren't we in a  serious drought???"

Favreau doesn't shy away from how personal this project is to him, surrounding himself with people he truly wants in his movie and vice versa, even if it means a 90 seconds-only presence for Rob Downey who, let's face it, could in such a short appearance school any given Oscar winner of the last 20 years. Even John Leguizamo, the king of playing it over the top, has the good sense to be a truly supporting actor in a performance that made me forgive him for One For the Money, while ScarJo herself plays... well ScarJo, and why shouldn't she for the man who made her into a powerhouse ass-kicker!

The only thing better than the cast is the food, ever present and so perversive the droll each side of my mouth made my own culinary talents recoil in jealousy. Honestly, weight watchers, stay away. Case in point: Favreau's girth. You KNOW the guy "practiced" a lot before filming...

So what's this about the director flipping the bird? Well... the film concerns Jon Favreau's character who, after being hailed in his debut for his independence and spirit (Swingers, Made), reaches the big time with a splash (Iron Man) but then succombs to corporate droneship which gets him shredded by haters and vitriolic critics (Iron Man 2, Cowboys & Aliens). So he goes back to his smaller, personal roots to do something for himself, something that truly makes HIM happy (this movie). Success of which re-opens the door for bigger yet still-personal projects (The Jungle Book).

"No, Porthos was just a character I played. I wasn't really friends with Charlie Sheen."

Just take that one scene where Carl goes publicly berserk on the mega-critic; "It hurts" the man keeps yelling to his tormentor, as if to remind everyone who turned on him that he made the movie which Marvel built their cinematic empire on (not to mention he had to fight tooth and nails for Downey to be Tony Stark, one of the greater casting decisions of modern cinema).

That being said, seekers of low-brow, high octane entertainment will surely find a bore in this effort from Favreau, but even the most casual viewer won't resist the salsa being served on a smiling platter, both musically and mouth-wateringly. If it doesn't boast an original plotline, at least it serves a full order of sincere hope and optimism, something much needed right now amidst the darkness rapidly covering our entire world.

Final Word: 4 out of 5 Stars