Opens Fri., May 23 at Majestic Bay, Sundance, and Lincoln Square. Rated R. 115 minutes.
There is nothing wrong with food porn or the happy camaraderie of a restaurant kitchen. Nor can I fault writer/director/star Jon Favreau for making a midlife-crisis movie that lets slip his Hollywood complaints. The commercial pressures in directing formulaic blockbusters like Iron Man must surely be great, and film critics are surely all assholes. Chef is the simple though overlong story of a chef getting his culinary and family mojo back, and my only real criticism—apart from the constant Twitter plugs—is that absolutely nothing stands in the way of that progress for chef Carl (Favreau). Dustin Hoffman barely registers as a villain (as Carl’s gently greedy “play the hits” boss, who goads him into quitting); Robert Downey Jr., as the prior ex of Carl’s ex (Sofia Vergara), briefly shadows the scene—but no, he’s only there to help. And even Oliver Platt, as the churlish food critic who becomes involved in a Twitter war with Carl, turns out to be a decent guy, not an asshole at all. (Wait, what?)
So what are the obstacles here? There are none. If you like endless scenes of chopping vegetables, salsa montages, and juicy supporting players (John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale, Amy Sedaris, Scarlett Johansson), Chef is an entirely agreeable dish. It even adds a road trip—Miami to L.A.—and a wedding as extra toppings. Just expect no salt. Generous and blandly indulgent, Chef may be Favreau’s attempt to make a James L. Brooks movie, only without the character flaws and self-induced setbacks. Nobody registers here as a person besides Carl. If Favreau has a creative gift he’s waiting to unfurl, it’s depicting male insecurity, which dates back to Swingers. “It hurts!” Carl screams at the critic for a bad review, and I’m sure Favreau felt the same way after Cowboys & Aliens.
Whether as artistic statement or self-justification of craft, Chef confirms the core talent of its maker. Comfort food, meet comfort movie.