"Chef" has the ingredients to become this summer's sleeper hit.
The film, written, directed and starring Jon Favreau (director, "Iron Man," 2008, 2010, 2013; "Elf," 2003) has laugh-out-loud moments, is a back-of-the house insider's view of the restaurant business, is part road trip movie (Miami, New Orleans, Austin), demonstrates the publicity power of social media (I nominate "You're trending, bro" as this summer's catchphrase), provides an emotionally moving father-and-son bonding story, and dispenses some wisdom ("I'm good at my job. I get to touch people's lives with what I do.").
"Chef" is hip, smart and has heart. It's one of the most satisfying films I've seen this year. "Chef" is not only for foodies, although they should enjoy it, as should anyone who works in the restaurant and hospitality business.
"Chef" is a modest film in that you will see actors act, hear dialogue spoken and not be overwhelmed by special effects. No need to see this film in 3-D or Imax.
In "Chef," Los Angeles celebrity chef Carl Casper (Favreau) is at odds with his boss, restaurant owner Riva (a really fine Dustin Hoffman), over what to put on the menu on the night when Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt, always great), the city's leading restaurant critic, is stopping by to dine and write a review.
(My quibble with the film is that I was under the impression that restaurant reviewers dine anonymously.)
Carl is separated from his fiancée Inez (Sofia Vergara), with whom he has a 10-year-old son Percey (Emjay Anthony, a wonderful young actor). Carl's an amusement park dad, as he does fun activities with his son, but isn't there for the day-to-day routine, and his son misses that.
Carl lives in a hole-in-the-wall apartment along the beach in Venice. His girlfriend, who is very understanding, even supportive, lives in a mansion, with a maid thanks to her high-powered career and wealthy first ex-husband (Robert Downey Jr. in a wonderful turn).
Favreau has a knack for spot-on casting. In supporting but significant roles are the always effervescent Scarlett Johansson, as Molly, the restaurant manager, and John Leguizamo as Martin, and Bobby Cannavale as Tony, the restaurant's cooks.
"Chef" is a break-out role for Vergara (TV's "Modern Family," 2009-present), who has several major scenes and is more of a co-star.
"Chef" reconfirms Favreau's skills as a director and writer ("Swingers," 1996) of indie-style emo-comedies: from "Iron Man" to iron "Chef."
At times, "Chef" plays like a Food Channel cooking show, with quick-cuts of food prep in the kitchen as music (some great reggae, soul and Latin tunes) is heard on the soundtrack in the style of a music video of food. Overall, the film is presented in a realistic style with few camera or editing tricks.
One major exception is the clever integration of Twitter into the plot line, and the representation of tweets floating onscreen in scenes and not as super-thirds subtitles.
If you're a vegetarian, you may not relish "Chef," as it flamboyantly celebrates cooked, braised and charcoaled meat. The film may horrify vegans.
Still, if you're looking for a fun date, why not dinner and a show and, in this case, dinner and "Chef"?
Or, after you see "Chef," the film may make you hungry for dinner.
"Chef," MPAA rated R (Restricted. Children Under 17 Require Accompanying Parent or Adult Guardian.) for language, including some suggestive references; Genre: Comedy; Run time: 1 hr., 54 min.; Distributed by Open Road Films.
Box Office June 13: The sequel, "22 Jump Street," put up some lucky numbers for the Friday the 13th weekend, opening at No. 1 with $60 million, keeping the sequel, "How To Train Your Dragon 2," opening at No. 2, with $50 million.
3. "Maleficent," $19 million, $163.5 million, three weeks; 4. "Edge Of Tomorrow," $16.2 million, $56.6 million, two weeks; 5. "The Fault In Our Stars," $15.7 million, $81.7 million, two weeks; 6. "X-Men: Days of Future Past," $9.5 million, $205.9 million, four weeks; 7. "Godzilla," $3.2 million, $191.3 million, five weeks; 8. "A Million Ways To Die In The West," $3.1 million, $38.9 million, three weeks; 9. "Neighbors," $2.5 million, $143.1 million, six weeks; 10. "Chef," $2.3 million, $14.1 million, six weeks
Unreel, June 20:
"Think Like A Man Too," PG-13: The fun couples head to Las Vegas for a weekend. Kevin Hart, Gabrielle Union, Meagan Good, Regina Hall, Dennis Haysbert, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Jenifer Lewis and La La Anthony star in the comedy.
"Jersey Boys," R: Clint Eastwood directs the film adaptation of the Broadway musical about 1960s' pop group The Four Seasons. John Lloyd Young, Erich Bergen, Michael Lomenda and Vincent Piazza play the boys. Christopher Walken costars in the musical biography drama.
"Third Person," R: Paul Haggis directs three connecting stories about three couples in Rome, Paris and New York. Liam Neeson, Mila Kunis, Adrien Brody, Olivia Wilde, James Franco, Kim Basinger and Maria Bello star in the romantic drama.
Read Paul Willistein's movie reviews at the Lehigh Valley Press web site, thelehighvalley-press.com; the Times-News web site, tnonline.com; and hear them on "Lehigh Valley Art Salon," 6 - 6:30 p.m. Mondays, WDIY 88.1 FM, and wdiy.org, where they're archived. Email Paul Willistein: email@example.com. You can follow Paul Willistein on Twitter and friend Paul Willistein on facebook.
Four Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes