You are here

Chef

Chef

And remember, always tip your wait staff and
other service industry types so that they don't
spit in your food too often

dir: Jon Favreau

2014

With some flicks, when there’s a clod/visionary at the centre of them who seems to have performed every job on the film (star/direct/produce/screenplay/edit) I often joke that they did the catering, too. In this, Jon Favreau’s tribute to Jon Favreau, it’s more than likely that he did the food as well.

There are people in this life who must feel very lucky to have gotten where they have. Other people work and strive damn hard and get nowhere for decades. For others, it just seems to fall in their lap. There’s no point getting angry about it: no-one except the delusional should expect a random and chaotic universe to allocate outcomes to people based on merit. It only happens in fantasy stories. Still, when that success comes to you, it’d be nice if you could acknowledge that you’ve risen to a station you otherwise don’t deserve.

On some level, it’s hard not to feel like Jon Favreau’s career as the director of some pretty big budget films is some kind of cosmic fluke. A man who has shown little ability as an actor or as a comedian ends up directing two of Marvel’s biggest recent movies? How? Why? Who does he have photos of in compromising positions that haven’t been leaked to the internets yet?

With all this success, and with still no real evidence of any particular talent for anything, you think he’d be pretty grateful to have ended up wherever he’s ended up. That he could sit quietly away from everyone else and occasionally just mutter to himself “Jeez I’m a lucky bastard.”

Instead, it’s time for us to hear from Jon Favreau, the frustrated artist bellowing at us about how much he deserves to be taken seriously, and how lucky we are to have him.

At no stage did I feel like I was watching a purely fictional film about a difficult character who learns to bond with his son over a love of good food and New Orleans clichés. Instead I felt like I was watching Jon Favreau yell directly at the audience saying “Who are you shmucks to mock me? I’m a fucking artist, and I sweat my heart out for my craft, and you’re all just grey nobodies and jealous haters.”

With that in mind, what we get is the 100 or so minute story of a jerk who’s a chef (obviously played by Jon Favreau) who has it all, who loses it all temporarily because of a prideful hissy fit, who then gets absolutely everything back for no decent reason I could fathom, as if to confirm that he was right all along.

I know that most chefs are jerks, and I know it from bitter experience, but I’m sure at least some of them have at least a modicum of depth to their characters beyond whatever it is that the main character here displays. Carl Casper lives for making great food. Nothing is as important to him as making the best food he can: not his former wife, nor his awfully named child Percy (Emjay Anthony), not even Scarlett Johansson (!) as some maître’d who looks at him with puppy dog eyes and presumably lets him sweatily paw at her after they get stoned.

It’s bad enough that we’re meant to accept that someone who looks like Johansson would even pretend in a film to let him touch her, we then have to accept Sofia Vergara as his ex-wife. And he’s the alleged greatest chef in all of Los Angeles.

Any of this would be easier to swallow if a) anyone other than Jon Favreau were playing the lead, b) he or his character displayed even the least amount of charisma or personality or c) we could actually see the money these other people were paid in order to hide their disgust for long enough to shoot their scenes. But we see none of that.

All we have is a large sweaty shouty man shouting at people about what a great chef he is and how nothing else really matters beyond making a great meal. See, in case you haven’t glommed on to this yet, Favreau makes the great leap from acknowledging that people really like food, to equating making great tasting food with creating art. See, Casper / Favreau is an artist, and thus isn’t bound by the same considerations or morality that the rest of us shmucks are subject to. Not for him the petty considerations of other mere mortals.

And see the problem in the flick (every flick has a ‘problem’ whose resolution is meant to take its characters on some kind of journey of self-discovery that leaves us feeling good about ourselves) isn’t that he’s a jerk. Oh no, the problem is that people aren’t acknowledging how awesome he is and, even worse, they’re holding him back.

When some critic has the temerity to take Casper down a peg, the chef lashes out at all and sundry, mostly because he knows the critic is right. This justifies his egotism coming to the fore, as he mismanages social media resulting in further confrontation with the critic, jeopardising the livelihoods of everyone attached to the restaurant just because his feelings have been hurt.

Of course they’re trying to show that the restaurant owner (Dustin Hoffman) is at fault for constraining Casper when he should be applauding him. In the first instance, when they know the critic is coming, the owner insists on the kitchen crew delivering the classics that the restaurant is renowned for. In the second instance, the owner insisting that the kitchen serve to the critic the same meals he hated days before is an unbelievable act of stupidity. It’s so patently moronic that it’s more unbelievable than the idea of Sofia Vergara’s character letting this sweaty walrus engender a child upon her while banging Scarlett goddamn Johansson’s character on the side.

Everyone’s against Casper, you see, except when they’re all patiently helping him out and constantly reassuring him that he’s a culinary genius. Possibly the most bizarre cameo in a film ever is Robert Downey Junior’s cameo here. I mean, it’s not a surprise that he is here, if Johansson et al are here, because Iron Man, I guess, but really he’s here yet again to prop up Casper/Favreau’s ego.

It’s a common staple of certain types of Hollywood movies across the genres that have a divorced man as the protagonist whereby the dissed, mocked, put-upon divorcee has to earn back his worth in the eyes of his ex-wife and children. Really, an inversion of that is just as present here, which seems to strongly imply that the protagonist has been brought low, but that everyone will love him again if he regains his confidence and is seen as a success again. If Casper, after his fall, learns nothing about himself or how to deal with other people fairly, or how to care about any person other than himself, but gets success again as a chef, then automatically everything else will fall into place and the universe will reward him for being awesome.

Bullshit, I say to that, total bullshit. You’re not fooling me for a second, Casper/Favreau. You’re a terrible person who’s perhaps read some Ayn Rand and is now feeling like he’s a Master of the Universe and that the rest of us should be acknowledging your greatness and getting the hell out of your way. I know I’m being unfair to the film, hell, I’m being far more scathing here than I was when I was watching it, but the cluelessness of the main character, his smug sense of self-satisfaction is never punctured, not even superficially.

The only time it seemed like it was going to happen it (bizarrely, going back to the Downey Junior cameo) comes down to a matter of sexual jealousy where Downey’s character messes with Casper’s mind by implying that he has sex with Casper’s ex-wife, who is also his ex-wife.

Even this awkward and childish set-up is deflated in a way that completely exists as unceasing wish-fulfilment for the main character, resulting in an ending that is as unearned as it is unaffecting.

I don’t know what experiences Favreau has had in his life where he felt the need to construct an entire film telling us, the ‘haters’, that we suck and that he’s great, but the entire movie is an uncomfortable shrine both to himself and that concept. It’s as badly thought out a point to make as when Kevin Smith started making movies where he literally got representational revenge at stand-ins for the teenaged boys who’d said shit about him online.

Jeez Louise, some people just can’t appreciate what they have, and how lucky they are to have had the opportunities they’ve had and in many cases squandered. If I went on a bit during this review about the yawning, aching distance between the utterly unappealing slob Favreau plays here, and the stunning women he pairs himself up with in this flick, I say it with this in mind: I, too, have been lucky enough to be ‘involved’ with some stunningly beautiful women, wonderful people at that, far beyond my station in life or so far out of my league that it becomes a different sport.

The difference is that I still shake my head and wonder as to how that ever happened. I think it every day as I look upon the people in my life. I sure as shit never strode around manfully in my wifebeater singlet and tracksuit pants acting like I deserved it all like an entitled frat boy, like I was ever entitled to anything, and who dares say anything different?

You know who dares? Jon Favreau, that’s who. As a film about food, well, film’s hardly the best medium for really enjoying such a thing. As a film about the arseholes who make food, well, it’s unintentionally very illuminating, which is not a good thing. It’s shallow and tasteless, and not very convincing at all.

5 times I know chefs are arseholes but they don’t have to be boring arseholes out of 10

--
“I may not do everything great in my life, but I'm good at this. I manage to touch people's lives with what I do and I want to share this with you.” – yes, I’m ever so sure you want to touch people and share yourself with the rest of us, you sweaty hack - Chef

Rating: