John Favreau most famous as director of recent blockbuster fare (Iron Man 1 and 2, Cowboys and Aliens), has a change of pace to write, direct and star in what is obviously a very personal project.
“Carl Casper” (Favreau) is Chef de Cuisine at a fancy restaurant owned by Riva (Dustin Hoffman), Carl is a large presence in every sense. Anointed as the chosen one by legendary food critic and blogger Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt) earlier in his career, he has enjoyed the benefits ever since.
We join the story as Ramsey plans to return for a meal, a victory lap if you will to confirm his protege still has what it takes. Unfortunately despite Carl’s creative juices flowing, Riva wants chef to stay with what customers know, his employee, his napkins, his food and therefore his menu.
Understandably, the evening does not go well and we then get a brief lesson in how social media will mess up your life if not used carefully. Carl and his kitchen colleagues “Martin” (John Leguizamo) and “Tony” (Bobby Cannavale) make for a believable, if profane tight knit group. Chef’s can be notoriously brittle with elements of Prima donna behaviour and Carl is no exception. He seeks comfort from the Maitre d’ “Molly”, (Scarlet Johanssen) but realises something has to change.
If his professional life is collapsing at least his personal life is ahead of the game, it has already collapsed. Estranged from his beautiful Cuban wife “Inez” (Sofia Vergara), he only gets to spend brief time with his son “Percy” (Emjay Anthony). Their relationship is strained, just the highlights, no depth, no real interaction.
Carl makes the change he needs and the real story begins, anyone viewing the trailer will know a food truck is heavily involved. Despite the quite beautiful food porn on offer, the story is really about the father son relationship and this is where the film really scores.
The film starts strong, then sags rather badly but once the Cuban beat starts and we are on the road, we kick up a gear. The subsequent road trip will make you smile and unless you are a vegetarian, occasionally salivate in your seat, especially the Texas stop. Unless you already filled up with popcorn in the foyer, then shame on you.
Negatives, whilst we know swearing is commonplace in the kitchen, there are quiet scenes where it is just not necessary and adds nothing. Carl’s apparent ability to attract not only Inez and Molly does give hope for us all, there is a quiet tender scene as Carl cooks Molly pasta. Vergara reprises her “Modern Family” role with little change, however the number of people working on the house is amusing however improbable.
The film swings from reality to unbelievable not always seamlessly but this is ultimately a feel good film and approached with that filter in place, an enjoyable watch. A film like this needs a movie moppet and young Emjay does a fine job, being both knowing, cute enough and believable in most of the situations demanded of him, a fine effort. Faverau is actually most believable in his kitchen scenes, having trained to be able to do enough to look real, he certainly does not look out of place. Leguizamo provides fine support and Cannavale impresses again in the brief scenes thrown his way.
Due to his movie contacts Faverau has obvious access to A-List talent that must be working for scale on a movie with this budget. This has obvious positives but on occasion does overbalance the film, Downey Jr making an appearance which is both unnecessary and adds a kookiness that does the film no real favours. However, Johansson is an important ingredient, not entirely necessary but adding a certain Je ne sais quoi.
A film that should leave you smiling and hungry by the time the credits crawl. A few laughs but ultimately having something to say about fathers, sons and pursuing what you love.
Wish fulfilment in parts maybe but after a promising amuse bouche, followed by a shaky starter, the film finishes with a solid main and soft centred dessert.