Review: Chef (Better Bonding Through Cuisinart)

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Jon Favreau's passion project Chef rose from an undistributed line-item at SXSW into a publicly discussed crowd-pleaser so quickly it feels like a flash flood...or a Polaroid. The comedy's production history declares it authentic while the subject and approach seal its popularity, and right now it's the just about critic-proof, which is ironic because the film is about a fusty, mid-career chef (writer/director Jon Favreau) in tailspin after the Roger Ebert of food review (Oliver Platt) “destroys” his career. Lodged somewhere between Jimmy Kimmel’s “Mean Tweets” segment and Ratatoulle, this family movie (with a few too many f-bombs) has become a high speed commercial success before it's even hit theaters and the way it’s uncompromising will blindside you.

Contrary to expectation, Carl Casper (Favreau) does not lose weight or earn millions of his own; instead he maxes out credit cards and gets all his boosts from friends, but he’ll happily live out his dreams anyway, because if you’re smart enough to figure out how to love your brilliant/adorable son (Emjay Anthony) and super hot ex-wife (Sofia Vergara) you should be smart enough to see you have it all. Carl's hard headedness makes it fun to watch him suffer indignities; taking a used taco truck from his ex-wife’s first husband (Robert Downey Jr.) is satisfyingly slimy. Unlike the indie films that trade on their artfulness, this scrubby little celeb-fest is selling warm fuzzies and food comas, but it wants you to remember your family is your rock and not your anchor. It's flexible about a lot of points, but on that point it won't compromise.

Surprisingly, Chef reminded me a lot of the Sex in the City movie. As Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie finally stared down her dream wedding and it imploded, her loved ones stopped their lives to help her escape her “MexiComa.” (The best line in that film was Samantha’s retort—Kim Cattrall isn’t in enough.) Carl, like Carrie, is resistant to the self-lessness of his supporters. It only makes sense that a man whose talent is cooking should have some skills to rally loved ones, but one becomes aware of how fleeting and thorny the possibility of human engagement is when your life-plan is in a state of regular peril. Carrie Bradshaw was a writer—her peril was always in process—Chef is no different in this, he’s a craftsman on who’s shoulders the show rides and no one really wants to give him the floor unless he promises to carry their agenda in with him. Ultimately, Carl’s success is immediate and temporary—he creates a sensation via food truck and social media—it’s a beginning and he’s jumping without a fiscal net. How equally American and ephemeral.

Instead of throwing money at young women or fast cars, this midlife crisis is paved with BBQ brisket, Cubano sandwiches and the comforting promise that if you live like you love balance comes naturally. Yeah, Chef is a critic-proof, for more reasons than the food.

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