Thursday, May 15, 2014

Chef Review

It is a well-known fact that moviegoers can be a finicky bunch at times, and movie studios are forever in search of that holy grail of movie formula that will guarantee a box office success every time. What is supposed to be a sureproof move to reap in box office gold (Johnny Depp + Disney franchise = Pirates of the Caribbean-like box office plunder) can very easily end up as a bust (See: Disney's The Lone Ranger). What is supposed to look like business as usual can end up hitting the big jackpot in a huge and unexpected way. (See: Frozen and its billion-dollar plus worldwide gross)

I like to think that in the case of movies like Chef, we moviegoers can be easy to please as well. Give us good food, good music and a halfway-decent story, and we will walk out of the movie theater feeling so good that we are hard pressed to nitpick about a movie we know is clearly far from perfect. Instead we would be more than happy to spread positive word-of-mouth about it and encourage fellow movie lovers to go enjoy this cheerful flick, which can be a tremendous box office boost for an independently produced and distributed movie like Chef. (see The Blind Side and how positive word of mouth made it such a commercial success)

Like I said, the movie is hardly perfect. Some of the more clearly unrealistic parts of the movie include: a food critic who actually announces his visit to a restaurant he is planning to review (Most established food critics do not do that because they want to base their review an authentic dining experience instead of an experience especially catered to elicit a good review); Carl, as winningly played by Jon Favreau, actually having a rich ex-wife Inez, beautifully played by Sofia Vergara, who has a rich ex-husband Marvin, who, in a scene-stealing role by Robert Downey Jr, is available to help Carl out when things go south; A work colleague who is all too ready and willing to give up a job he just got promoted to in order to continue working with Carl; A hot sometime girlfriend for Carl in the shape of a sultry Scarlett Johannson who just seems to exist in the movie solely to slightly spice things up sexually and give Carl very life-affirming advice to pursue his dreams. All these hardly help the movie earn any real street food cred.

It is also not difficult to see how the food journey Carl goes through in the movie can very easily stand in for Favreau's real-life movie career in Hollywood. Favreau, having first successfully established himself in Hollywood with commercially and critically successfully movies such as Elf, Iron Man and Iron Man 2, failed with the critically panned and commercially unsuccessful Western-Science Fiction crossover Cowboys and Aliens. Now, having been slightly burned by Hollywood, Favreau is returning to his indie roots with Chef.

Chef does tread a rather well-worn and overly-familiar road in its storyline rather than try to be daring and break out of its well-established mold, which feels somewhat contradictory in a movie about a chef who doesn't want to keep on cooking the same creatively-unchallenging dishes and instead wants to keep things fresh by experimenting on something new and different.

However, there is real heart behind the movie, and the deliciously scrumptious and luscious scenes of food being lovingly cooked and eaten ("Food porn!" I whispered excitedly to my movie companion at one point in the movie, causing the lady beside me who overheard what I said to burst into laughter), all accompanied by catchy jazzy music, will make you happy enough to groove along for this food truck ride, no matter the slightly bumpy ride.

My verdict: Take a break from all those superhero movies you've been going to for the last month, and go see this charming little food comedy instead. It will cleanse your palate for the action-heavy summer movie schedule that is just a few school bell rings away.

4 out of 5 stars for me.

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