The funny, heartwarming, food-obsessed “Chef” is a perfect choice to open SXSW. Jon Favreau, who has spent a better part of the last decade focused on bigger films like “Iron Man” and “Cowboys and Aliens”, writes, directs, and stars in the small indie comedy about the love of food and creation.
Favreau plays Carl Casper, a renowned Chef with a turbulent personal life who has grown dissatisfied with his position as head chef in a posh L.A. restaurant. Casper is divorced, his son is estranged, and the only solace he can find in life is through his love of preparing food. However, after five years of falling back on the same delicious but safe menu and dealing with constant interference from his overbearing boss (Dustin Hoffman), a volatile encounter with a smug food critic (Oliver Platt) leads Casper to quit his job and open up a food truck in his home town of Miami.
The film balances Casper’s rediscovery of his culinary passion with his attempt to reconnect with his son (newcomer Emjay Anthony). When the Miami venture becomes a cross country trip to promote the new business, Casper tries to impart his love of cooking to his son. The father-son dynamic is the emotional heart of the movie, and largely works because of the strong chemistry between Favreau and the young actor.
Favreau has compiled an impressive cast for his passion project. Sofia Vergara plays Casper’s ex-wife, who still sparks a romantic interest. John Leguizamo and Bobby Cannavale provide additional comic relief as Casper’s outspoken assistant chefs, and Scarlet Johansson has a small role as the hostess at Casper’s restaurant. Favreau himself proves that his talents go beyond directing blockbusters or having small parts in movies like “I Love You Man.” Favreau doesn’t shy away from showing Casper’s shortcomings as a friend, husband, and father, and the chef’s talents in the kitchen are never presented as a substitute for his personal faults. Casper is brash, has a short temper, and often antisocial. Cooking is his escape, and the movie effectively portrays a man who has followed his dream to such an extreme that he has lost sight of any worthwhile things in his life.
The real star of the film is the food. “Chef” is full of gorgeous culinary shots, including a sequence at Austin’s own Franklin’s BBQ. With “Chef”, Favreau captures the messy, often hectic and unsure process of creating a beautiful meal that clearly mirrors the uncertainty of life and relationships. “Chef” is slated for a release in May of this year. Just don’t see it on an empty stomach.