August 5, 2014

Chef (2014)

Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale, Sofía Vergara

The Food Network has turned me into a pseudo-foodie. Through a steady a diet of Chopped, The Next Food Network Star, Iron Chef America, The Great Food Truck Race, and anything Alton Brown is on, I have suddenly started saying things like "hmm... this fish could use a bit more acidity." And though I still believe people who claim to enjoy kale and kombucha are pretentious fakers, I no longer boycott Whole Foods on the principle that their shoppers are the epitome of yuppie wastefulness. Living in the über foodie culture of San Francisco only reinforces this new found foodie obnoxiousness of mine, to the point where it has somehow rubbed off on my 3 year old. She recently told me her favorite foods are cashews, tofu, and couscous.

The foodie's cousin, of course, is the artsy person (though often also the same person, making them doubly obnoxious), so I figured I would attempt to write this review of a foodie movie from an artsy perspective.

Obviously the crux of the movie, artsy folks love a complex plot, full of deeper meanings that can serve as conversation pieces afterwards. To the artsy crowd, a movie isn't just a form of entertainment - it's an experience that becomes part of your life.

This is a plot that would definitely appeal to them. It has more than one storyline for the main character, giving the relatively straightforward sequence of events additional interest. It is also a very authentic story that a lot of people can relate to, giving the audience plenty to discuss later if they are so inclined.

Production design:
Ahhhh... aesthetics. Now, I'm not one to argue with the need for good aesthetics on a movie set; it's just that I prioritize the aesthetics of the actors themselves, while artsy people tend to focus on the overall "look" of the movie. I suppose this is the reason Her and Gravity were able to gain so many fans - when you're so focused on the design of the movie, it's easy to overlook a lame plot.

In this regard, Chef really delivers. I hate the term "food porn," but there doesn't seem to be a better way to describe the frequent sequences of close-ups on food preparation. It's the most cooking I've seen in a movie since Eat, Drink, Man, Woman. Let's just say that despite eating a full meal before going to see this movie, I managed to gain enough of an appetite by watching it that I stopped for food afterwards. (White Castle, in case you were wondering.)

This is where the artsy crowd can start to get obnoxious (errr... more obnoxious). They discuss actor's performances as though they exist in a vacuum. Case in point: The Master. Somehow, every person in this movie was nominated for an Oscar, despite the movie being so dull and pointless I considered ending my friendship with every single person who recommended the movie to me.

Luckily, Chef is both a solid movie with solid acting. Jon Favreau manages to step away from his Swingers persona he frequently falls back on in other movies (ahem, ahem, The Break-Up) just enough to be believable as a divorced dad going through some sort of a mid-life crisis. And though Sofía Vergara loses attractiveness as a blonde - probably a seen as a plus to the artsy crowd, who think the uglier an actress makes herself, the more serious the role - it's nice to see her tone down the whininess in her accent she uses in Modern Family. Even the kid in the movie isn't a terrible actor, which is practically unheard of in today's practice of casting whoever is related to someone famous (I'm talking to you, Willow Smith).

As a complete package, I'd rate it as both something worth seeing and recommending to others, especially if those people are "into indie films." (You know who I'm talking about - the same people who also only listen to underground bands and shop at farmer's markets.)

Final word: A coming-of-age story for the middle-aged.

**Update: I checked with the one artsy person I know. He didn't even watch this because he "doesn't trust movies with actor/directors." There's just no winning with these people.

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