Monday, May 12, 2014

Jon Favreau's Chef Is A Welcome Metaphor For Industry

I came to see Jon Favreau's Chef because I love food and watching a near-2-hour movie specifically about food traditionally gets me going pretty well.
What I didn't expect to find was a thinly veiled message about Favreau's latest experiences in the film industry. Check this, the plot of Chef: A celebrity chef quits his job because he's not allowed to make the food he wants to make... his boss keeps telling him just to make this one specific menu... one that is getting panned by critics... sound like a studio's relationship with the director? So he goes off and buys a food truck where he can make the food he wants to make whenever he wants... like, I dunno, a production company or something self produced or something?
Jon Favreau got his start with small indy-style movies. He wrote Swingers and directed Made before he ever got the opportunity to do projects like Elf and Zathura. Both of those could be considered smaller studio pictures. The man was working his way up a ladder. And as he went, it seemed he was being given the opportunity to make the movies HE wanted to make. Then, one day, BOOM he gets Iron Man. It's instantly huge for him. He quickly starts working on a sequel. But as open as Marvel Studios is to allowing artists creative control, they perhaps want to add too many elements creating the most convoluted movie in the franchise... suddenly too many ingredients, suddenly too many cooks in the kitchen (sorry). So afterward he says he won't come back for a third attempt. Sounds to me like he was frustrated and wasn't enjoying the process... I mean, who gives up an opportunity to complete their trilogy??
I'm just saying, the plot of Chef certainly speaks to me from the perspective of Favreau's personal career. But enough on that for now.

As a film, Chef aspires to lofty things. The film wants very badly to carry a weighted heart and at many times it succeeds bringing the audience into its world with gusto. But then there are the little moments that feel rushed and unintelligible for a final cut. These are just little moments, but they can cut deep from a film's integrity. That being said, I think it does ultimately surpass these minor issues. I don't want to even mention them as I hope anyone going to see the film might miss them altogether and thus have a better experience.
When you're Jon Favreau, you have a lot of friends. And it felt like... despite the obvious absence of Vince Vaughn this time around... Favreau got almost everyone he knew to show up in his little film. And they all seem to be having a blast. John Leguizamo can still do great things if you let him... and here he's clearly having so much fun that his good side shines through. I really like Bobby Cannavale. He's just consistently good in everything. Scarlett Johansson is solid here even if she doesn't get a whole lot to do. And Dustin Hoffman is always a welcome presence for me. He feels like he's still trying to this day unlike some of his contemporaries... and I love him for that. This is my second positive experience with Sofía Vergara this month and I'm so glad she's on my radar now. Oliver Platt is an immortal favorite of mine, and though he has one of those parts that mostly will get overlooked, he still brings a stark presence to his role that proves to me he was giving it his all. And Robert Downey Jr.'s cameo is pretty amazing... and weird... but mostly just a perfect scene for an audience with such a broad relationship to the man's film career. That scene was strange as all hell, but it left me wanting more.

So what's left to say? Chef is a solid flick that can be viewed from two angles. Either it's a simple road trip movie about food (which is fine), or it's an artist coming out and stating how messy his experiences these last six years have been and trying to prove to us that he's still that same guy we enjoyed making smaller projects with legitimate heart. Well I for one think he's headed in the right direction.

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