"I may not do everything great in my life, but I'm good at this."
Oh please don't be so humble Jon Favreau, you do everything pretty much great, and you proved it once again by directing, starring, and writing this charming and feel good family film. If there were ever a time where the term food porn could be applied to a film review, this is it because everything looked so tempting and delicious. Please don't watch this film on an empty stomach because you will be tortured by every single scene where Favreau is preparing food, whether it be a complicated dish for his fancy restaurant or a plain cuban sandwich from his food truck. But this isn't just a film glorifying food, it uses this passion people have for it and metaphorically shows us how it's never late to reinvent and discover ourselves. It is quite a change of pace for Favreau whose latest films were big budget productions (Cowboys & Aliens and the first two Iron Man movies), but this small family road trip film served its purpose in its own way for Favreau to reinvent himself once again and go back to his origins. Chef was an improvement from his last two films, but I still think Iron Man and Elf are Favreau's best ones. What Chef has going for it despite a pretty simple premise is how charismatic and natural the characters are in this film. The family drama feels authentic and it's never forced like so many films in the genre are. The film takes its time to introduce each character and doesn't simply rush things to the fun parts (the road trip). It's a feel food film but one that avoids cliches and forced situations and simply takes us along for a reinventing and natural ride.
The premise is pretty simple, but the way in which Favreau presents each character is refreshing in its own way. He is likable in the lead role despite being a flawed character who remains friends with his ex-wife (played by Sofia Vergara) and is trying to balance out his time working in a respected restaurant while trying to connect with his young son, Percy (Emjay Anthony). He seems to have lost his creative freedom and is restrained by the owner (Dustin Hoffman) to continue serving the same dishes that have given the restaurant its fame (nice nod to the movie industry in Hollywood which restrains the creative instincts from its talented directors so that they continue to serve their audience the same dishes). But when a famous food critic (Oliver Platt) criticizes his dishes an online twitter war breaks out between them. Favreau decides it's time to move on and following his ex-wife's advice he travels with his son to Miami and buys a food truck. This is where their road trip begins and the two begin bonding. John Leguizamo and Bobby Cannavale play Favreau's assistants, and they both are the reason why the film is so charming. I was surprised with Anthony's performance as well. Having seen a couple of old films recently I can't help but realize how child acting has improved over the years. You never get the feeling that Anthony is ever acting or reading out his lines because every word and reaction felt completely natural. There were also plenty of funny and warm moments throughout the film. It was good to see Robert Downey Jr. and Favreau reunited once again although it was only for a couple of minutes. There was nothing groundbreaking about Chef, but it was so authentic and charming that it was hard to resist. The cast plays a key role in the success of this film and so does the food.