I don’t have a problem with artists using metaphorical stories to express their own beliefs or experiences. In fact, I encourage it. Jon Favreau wrote and directed a movie about selling out and finding one’s artistic soul again, and about dealing with critics. But when it comes to confronting those issues, Chef resorts to wallowing and buffoonery. We all like stories about underdog heroes doing good, but Chef takes the wrong route to get there.
Chef Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) backs down on a special menu he planned for a food critic when his manager (Dustin Hoffman) insists he stick to the old menu. When the critic writes a negative review, Carl takes to Twitter to defend himself and gets a second shot, at which point the manager sabotages it again! Carl ultimately loses his restaurant gig, so he’s forced to follow his own passion for cooking on the road.
This is a healthy confrontation and ultimately what Carl needs to fulfill his own personal artistic journey, except it defies common sense. Carl just packed the joint on the promise of a new menu. What manager would deny the customers the attraction they came for? Forget about the critic, that’s bad business. We should see at least half the place walk out. They didn’t come to eat the old menu.
Second Opinion: William Bibbiani Says ‘Chef’ is ‘Charming and Thoughtful’
So then of course the critic complains about the same old menu, which duh, but why did he order the exact same dishes from the menu he hated the first time? This is when Carl should confront him and say, “Obviously this is not what intended to cook for you. Why don’t you taste my real menu and then write an honest review?” He can invite him to a private home, or any other kitchen would probably be happy to host this rematch. He could still stick it to the manager by proving his own menu was better all along, but no, this is when Carl whines about hurt feelings and how critics don’t actually work for anything.
I don’t see this as a slam against critics.I don’t think Favreau really has a problem with critics. He seems a good sport. It reads more as “the audience wants to yell at this critic, so Carl will do it for them.” That is, assuming the audience is so endeared to Carl that they hated the negative review too. It’s actually dumbing down the conflict for mainstream audiences. That is exactly what Carl and Favreau are fighting against. Carl wants to cook complex gourmet, not pander with the simple old menu.
It’s not even about taking the high road with the critic. It’s about addressing the character’s conflict head on. It would even strengthen the movie’s motivation to get Carl cooking on his own. The rest of the movie could build to a final tasting, or maybe that’s what motivates Carl to start a food truck and have it reviewed instead of a restaurant, and maybe along the way find that he doesn’t care about reviews after all. It’s just that instead of following that natural path, the film takes a detour for an outburst that isn’t even really relevant to the character’s journey.
Related: Watch an Exclusive Scene from ‘Chef’
This is also one of those movies where the main character doesn’t understand how social media works, which isn’t really Favreau’s fault. He wrote and directed Chef years before ten other movies played that card to explain social media and viral videos to a four quadrant audience. Now it’s released in a marketplace where every movie is proud to explain how social media works. All this to validate the premise that a feud between a food blogger and a chef is followed by thousands of people. Well, I’ll give ‘em that. Maybe a famous chef would have a big enough following to fuel a flame war.
The food on display looks delicious in high definition Blu-ray. Montages of preparing ingredients and loving closeups on slabs of meat are the best kind of food porn. Overall it’s a new release Blu-ray that looks perfectly clear, and it’s highlighted by the detail in the shots of food.
Favreau is an affable guy to listen to on a commentary track with chef and co-producer Roy Choi. Indeed, Favreau confirms all the structural misdirect was intentional, so we just have a difference of opinion there. They get into a lot of the food minutiae too. 10 minutes of deleted scenes really just show endless improv alternates and gratuitous music.
When Chef finally gets going there’s some good banter between Favreau and John Leguizamo, and the relationship between Carl and his son is touching. It just made me angry to see the story dodge the real meat (food pun!) to indulge the whiny side of the story.