Chef is a welcome return for Jon Favreau to his independent film style. The style of the film is not necessarily trying to be constantly hilarious, but instead is a heartwarming adventure that while slow to start off, really gets going in its second and third acts, emerging to be a fun and funny film that ranks as one of Favreau’s best directed, written, and acted films in years.
Jon Favreau has been a big name in Hollywood since his 1996 hit comedy Swingers to his popular directorial works that include Iron Man, Elf, and the abysmal Cowboys and Aliens. As his first lower budget production, Favreau shows his mastery as a director through the way scenes are constructed. As a director and writer, he is intent on showing the audience things as oppose to blatantly pointing them out with dialogue. Many scenes, especially those involving cooking and social media, are creatively shot in a way that is both visually interesting and progress the plot. His writing skills are also shown through the development of characters through their relationships, especially the one between himself and his son, played by Emjay Anthony. By examining the characters through their interactions with others, Favreau is able to keep the plot flowing and avoid cliché moments. While the film follows a standard structure, it never feels obviously generic moments such as the “all is lost” moment. The strength of Favreau’s script and directorial are standouts that are some of the most notable elements of the film, as well as his performance.
Favreau shows his skills as an actor as he delivers one of the performances of his career that is hopefully remembered when the Golden Globe Musical/Comedy nominations are released. Unlike some of his more outlandish comedic performances, Favreau plays a three dimensional relatable character that struggles with real issues, such as artistic merit and how to balance his personal and professional life. However, he understands as a writer and an actor that just because a character is more grounded in reality, he can still be very comedic. The main portion of the film focuses on the relationship between Favreau, his son (played by Emjay Anthony), and his co-worker Marvin (played by John Leguizamo), who have great chemistry and are believable as a team. Other performances, such as those by Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Downey Junior, Oliver Platt, and Bobby Cannavale are good, but feel more like cameos than full on performances.
The style of the film is, for the most part, comedic, but not in the conventional sense. The story itself is about following a passion (similar to last year’s Inside Llewyn Davis) and is not explicitly comedic, but is told in a way that is humorous. No scene is in the film just set up a gag; instead most of the comedy draws from the back and forth dialogue between the characters, which is a credit to the strength of Favreau’s script. In fact, the film’s only major flaw is its first 30-45 minutes; they spend a long time developing character motivations and relationships and don’t seem to affect the actual plot that much. However, once the film starts going it’s a very enjoyable ride.
Chef is Jon Favreau’s film in every sense, and while other actor/writer/directors may use it as an ego trip, Favreau uses it to pay respect to independent films and craft a great story that proves to be his second best directorial achievement, behind the original Iron Man. It’s a film that while not flashy, is very impressive with its direction and hilarious with its laughs. With great performances, a well executed script, and great editing, Chef is easily one of the year’s best comedies so far. Grade: B