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Byron Shire
March 6, 2021

Chef

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Jon Favreau has written, directed and starred in a movie that plugs directly into two of today’s weirdest and (to me) most fatuous obsessions – Twitter and the cult of the kitchen – only to leave his commentary on them floundering halfway through.

As Carl Casper, he is a once-was-legendary chef who has gone stale working in the up-market but conservative restaurant of no-nonsense Riva (Dustin Hoffman).

This in itself is a stimulating beginning, full of tension and edgy questions – the individual’s creative urge at loggerheads with business’s (in this case his employer’s) bean-counting pragmatism is a perennial struggle.

When LA’s most influential foodie critic (Oliver Platt) bags Casper for his laziness, his predictability and (inexcusable) his lousy lava chocolate cake, a war of words between the pair erupts and goes viral.

Favreau does well to highlight how hurtful to people the insidious cycle of 24/7 gossip posing as news can be – his public meltdown scene is spectacular.

Unfortunately, as things are heating up, he opts to take his foot off the pedal by allowing his subject to walk away from the conflict.

Casper buys a decrepit food-van and, accompanied by the young son (Emjay Anthony) with whom he shares custody with his divorced wife (Sofía Vergara), and cooking buddy Martin (John Leguizamo), Casper returns to his roots as a sandwich-maker.

In what evolves into a soft-sell road trip, the gang make their way from Miami back to California doing little more than eating and having a swell time.

I kept expecting something to happen – but nothing does (presumably Favreau was content to allow his film to become a vehicle for the tourist offices of Florida, Texas and California).

It’s harmless enough and, as winter descends, it is a cosy way to pass a couple of hours, but the fade to irrelevance disappoints. And without wishing to denigrate porky chaps in glasses and bad hair, that a bloke like Favreau could pull a couple of women like Vergara and (waitress) Scarlett Johannson is, well… hard to swallow.

~ John Campbell


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