Swingers holds a special place in my heart. It’s a place that is a tiny neighborhood where the movie’s neighbors are Clerks, Bottle Rocket, and Reservoir Dogs. These movies hit me in my formative years, back when I was becoming a pop culture sponge and getting into the power of language. These films inspired me, leaving an impression on me that has continued to stick around all these years later.
Jon Favreau, the brains behind Swingers, has had an interesting post-Swingers career, one that has led him to eventually becoming one of the most powerful people in Hollywood. It’s not enough to kick start the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but he also played a major role in The Mandalorian, the only glimmer of good news to come out of Star Wars country in recent years.
But a few years before The Mandalorian came out and while the MCU was still firing on all cylinders, Favreau took a step back. In 2014, he wrote and directed Chef. Whereas seemingly everything he had been doing over the past decade was big and loud and expensive, Chef was the opposite. It was a small movie telling an equally small, but universally relatable story.
Chef has much more in common with Swingers than Iron Man and it’s Favreau getting back to his roots, back to the modus operandi that put him on the map all those years ago. No explosions, no superheroes, no talking snowmen. Instead, Chef is full of witty, well-written dialogue, humor ranging from touching to biting, great story-telling, and awesome performances. It’s not a sibling of Swingers like Made is, but more of a cousin, specifically an older, more mature cousin with a worldlier view. The movie is both the product of a more seasoned Favreau, but also a Favreau who hasn’t forgotten where he came from.
It’s also a downright wonderful movie.
No really, it’s delightful in the most delightful sense of the word.
No dude, I’m serious. It’s like, really, really good. Delightfully good.
Now, if you haven’t seen Chef, here’s all you need to know.
Favreau plays Carl Casper, a chef in L.A.; specifically, a hotshot chef working at an upscale joint run by Dustin Hoffman.
Wow, Dustin Hoffman? Yeah, Dustin Hoffman.
Chef might feel like a small movie, but it’s not lacking in big-name actors. The casting process feels like it could have been just Favreau calling people in his phone and asking if they want to hang out for a bit. Robert Downey Jr., Scarlet Johannsson, and Amy Sedaris, all veterans of Favreau movies, show up at different points.
A well-known food blogger (Oliver Platt) is coming in to review the restaurant and homeboy is a big deal, recently selling his foodie blog for ten million bucks. With him coming in, Casper wants to do it up right- really wow this dude. Only Hoffman will have none of it, telling Favreau’s character to leave the new tracks at home and to focus on the hits, which Favreau begrudgingly does.
It doesn’t go well. The resulting review is a shit-talking-filled A-bomb and after learning about Twitter, Casper makes the whole situation worse via social media (as one tends to do.) Yadda yadda yadda, Casper finds himself unemployed and looking for a new gig. His ex-wife, Sofia Vergara, urges him to go to Miami with her and her son, Percy. While there Carl ends up picking up a food truck, finds a renewed purpose in life, and embarks on a journey back to L.A. with his son and his Line Chef for Life John Leguizamo.
By the time they reach L.A., Carl…nope, that’s far enough. That’s all you need to know.
Chef feels like comfort food, the film equivalent of the super delicious Cubano sandwiches Carl ends up slinging from his truck. This isn’t just a movie about a chef or someone re-discovering a passion- it’s about a father and son connecting and it’s about enjoying the absolutely wonderful meal that the simple joys in life are.
Chef just makes you feel good like you’ve just eaten a delicious meal in the company of friends and loved ones. It’s not trying to swing for the fences or reinvent the wheel. It’s a movie with a heart and a story with heart and a soundtrack of straight Cuban/Latin fire. Chef isn’t necessarily a remarkable artistic achievement, but it’s a hell of a home run in good ol’ fashion story-telling.
You know, like Swingers was back in the day.
Iron Man is great. So is Elf. The Mandalorian is just tons of fun. But man, I’d love to see Favreau make more movies like Chef, because I really feel that’s where he shines. But will he, though? Eh, probably not a for a little while. But it’s fine. At least we know he always has something like Chef inside of him. It’s the ace up his sleeve.
And it’s a hell of an ace.