Dir; Jon Favreau. Starring; Jon Favreau, Dustin Hoffman, Sofía Vergara. R. Color. 114 min
Among cinephiles, Jon Favreau is not a name that evokes memories of classic pictures such as “Casablanca” or “The Godfather“. Favreau is best know as the director of the “Iron Man” blockbuster franchise and obscure Hollywood flops like “Cowboys and Aliens“. Perhaps you instead recognize him as a memorable character actor in films like “The Replacements” or “I Love You Man“. Despite the overall mediocrity of his career, the more seasoned moviegoers among us may recall that as a young up-and-comer in the 1990’s, he wrote and co-starred in a little independent hit called “Swingers“. Favreau made some noticeable waves with the critics with his screenplay but unfortunately during the subsequent decades, it seemed that he was destined to be a one-hit wonder. That is until 2014 when we wrote, directed and stared in a wonderful independent film called “Chef” that practically nobody saw, but I’m certain almost everyone would enjoy.
I have to admit, regardless of my indifference to his comic book career as a filmmaker, when I first saw the trailer for “Chef”, I was immediately intrigued. I recall an afternoon date with my then fiancé, now wife, that began with a screening of the sleeper hit followed by a much needed multi-course meal at a popular local Brazilian barbecue restaurant. It was as if Favreau had somehow reverted to his early, ambitious self and had once again struck the correct notes perfectly on beat. Yes, this was an exceptional film, but I saw more than just that. I will argue that the story structure of this film and this character almost exactly parallels Favreau’s own career as a filmmaker.
For those who haven’t seen it, here is a synopsis of the main plot points that are necessary to illustrate my argument:
Jon Favreau plays chef Carl Casper in Los Angeles who is the head of an upscale restaurant backed by an unnecessarily hands-on owner played by Dustin Hoffman. Chef Casper is a creative genius when it comes to cooking, but is constrained by the demands of his overbearing boss who would rather sacrifice the beauty and art in cooking for financial success. When the most prominent internet food critic is meant to visit the restaurant to write a review on a chef that he once hailed as the next bright star in the cooking world, Casper is shown constructing a beautiful menu that will undoubtedly bring a five star review. As you would imagine, Dustin Hoffman rejects the menu and forces Casper to “play his hits” with the usual menu that has brought the restaurant great success. The critic slams Casper for his lack of creativity, heart and courage which leads to a feud ending in Casper walking out on the restaurant and starting over in Miami on a food truck making Cubano sandwiches. The second half of the film focuses on his success and genuine enjoyment running a food truck that helps repair a broken relationship with is son. At last, he can cook and be creative in the way he always knew he should be. By the end, this critic praises him for the food he now gets to put out with true passion.
Getting back to Swigers and my subtext theory:
Favreau, Like Chef Casper was a newcomer who made waves among the critical community and had the potential to be the next auteur in the film world. He should have gone on to make many more cult classics but instead chose a career working for Hollywood big wigs that lead to financial success but little critical praise. In “Chef” Casper works for Dustin Hoffman, who represents Hollywood and an overbearing studio system. Who better to represent Hollywood then one of it’s greatest actors?
His career working for Hoffman is the film industry equivalent of an artist being forced to direct “Iron Man”, “Elf” and “Cowboys and Aliens” (for the record, I do enjoy “Elf” to a degree).
With “Chef” Favreau was able to abandon the studio system and make a picture that was not just near and dear to his heart, but something he could actually be proud to put his name on. This is exactly the same as chef Casper quitting his job and reviving an old food truck that allows him to cook the food he always dreamed of making. “Chef” is literally John Favreau’s rusty Cubano truck that may seem on the surface as just a feel good family movie about cooking, but beneath lies the themes of his struggles, frustration but also his ultimate triumph as a caged artist finally set free.
Written by Maier
Suck Factor: 2 out of 7 (7 means your movie really SUCKS!)
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