Jon Favreau's new independent film, Chef, may have some hefty competition this summer with the release of the X-Men sequel and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, yet the heartwarming story is one moviegoers should keep on their radar.
The dramatic comedy follows Carl Casper, a passionate master chef played by Favreau, who works at a Los Angeles restaurant run by a relentless owner named Riva (Dustin Hoffman). Carl's life takes an unexpected turn after a prominent food blogger (Oliver Platt) writes an unfavorable review and even mocks his weight gain.
A hilarious Twitter exchange between the two leads to Carl inviting the blogger back for a second meal. Yet, Riva gives Carl an ultimatum—either he cooks the same menu or he can quit. Carl—protective of his creativity and identity—not only chooses the latter, but also engages in a heated confrontation with the blogger. His outburst goes viral making his chances of finding another job slim to none. With no options left, he decides to start his own food truck, something his ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) encouraged from the start.
Inez invites Carl on a trip to Miami with their young son (Emjay Anthony) to secretly get him inspired again in the city where he started his culinary career. With some financial help from a wealthy Inez and her first husband (Robert Downey Jr.), Carl gets his food truck and is joined by business partner Martin (John Leguizamo). Ultimately, his new venture isn't only lucrative; it's also a blessing in disguise.
"What's nice about little movies like this, I mean relatively little ones, is characters could have arcs," Favreau told host Peter Travers and the assembled media members (including Enstars) during the NY Film Critics Series screening on Wednesday. "Most movies now—the big ones—are about escapism and every once in a while it's nice to make a movie about real-world situations because there are lessons to be learned there too."
Indeed, Chef is loaded with uplifting lessons mixed with some great humor. The movie emphasizes the importance of staying true to your dreams, getting back up when you're knocked down, and also not losing sight of what's important in life.
"Like this guy, his career was in the toilet not because he wasn't dedicating all his time to it. He was, to the detriment of his home life," the Iron Man director said. "But, when he dialed that back and balanced his life out, all of a sudden the inspiration flowed back into his life and everything became richer and nicer and ultimately he's happier."
Aside from creating a relatable character, Favreau also wanted to precisely depict the world of a chef. He worked with professional cooks to grasp the minuscule details of their job, like the burns on their forearms, the organization of their knife bags and the way they hold their towels.
"I wanted to get it right for the chefs," he said. "I wanted chefs or people from the food world to give me the nod." And, they won't be the only ones.
Chef comes to theaters on May 9.