You don’t have to be a foodie to savor the originality of “Chef.”
You just have to appreciate a movie that takes standard ingredients — a divorced father, a young son longing to spend more time hanging out with his dad, a man caught between his creative instincts and controlling boss, and an epic meltdown — and assembles them in a fresh, funny, surprising way.
Starring: Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, Sofia Vergara.
Rating: R for language, including some suggestive references.
However, even the pickiest eaters will appreciate the care taken with a crusty, gooey grilled cheese while the food aficionados will leave with cravings for BBQ brisket sliders or authentic Cuban sandwiches toasty hot from the grill or a basket of yucca fries.
Jon Favreau wrote, directed, produced and stars in “Chef” as the title character, Carl Casper. The onetime rising star in Miami and then a trendy Brentwood, Calif., restaurant hungers to try different, daring dishes with zesty flavors, especially when he learns an influential food blogger (Oliver Platt) is due to dine.
But the eatery’s owner (Dustin Hoffman) insists he stick with the tried-and-true — and tired — that have satisfied unadventurous customers for years.
When Carl follows his boss’s edict to prepare the standbys, such as poached egg with caviar, French onion soup and molten chocolate lava cake, the blogger laments the once edgy chef’s slide into mediocrity. He suggests Carl lacks imagination, is insecure and, yikes, has gotten fat.
Carl tries to swallow the review until he understands the power and reach of tweets, retweets and viral videos — especially once he attempts to make appetizing amends, explodes in public and ends up as a meme.
“I’m like a [expletive] cat playing a piano,” he laments, which forces him to reinvent himself, try to return to what he loves and reconnect with his son (Emjay Anthony, wonderfully natural). As you can tell from the poster, there is a food truck in the chef’s future.
Mr. Favreau knows what it’s like to score small and score big. Once celebrated for his “Swingers” screenplay — so fresh and finely observed that it made mainstream comedies look flat and contrived — he later directed “Iron Man” and “Iron Man 2,” which grossed $1.2 billion around the world.
Although he salts his cast with name actors, including Sofia Vergara as his ex-wife, Robert Downey Jr. as her first husband, John Leguizamo and Bobby Cannavale as his pals in the kitchen, and Scarlett Johansson as a restaurant floor manager, Mr. Favreau mainly invests “Chef” with joy.
Its ending borders on fairy tale but there’s attention to detail, from the chef’s tattoos to instructions on how to properly spread the mustard on the Cuban sandwich bread. It’s part of the passion for food, fatherhood, love and creative freedom, and it is all garnished with buoyant, mood-setting music.
Carl says at one point, “There are chefs that cook food that they believe in and people will try because they’re open to a new experience and they’ll end up liking it.” Mr. Favreau could swap out chefs for filmmkakers and “cook food” for “make movies” and the sentiment still will hold true.
Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies.