If you’re looking for a rip-roaring thriller or some cutting edge social commentary, you won’t find it in Chef. There’s not much sex and violence either. What you will find, however, is a funny, good-hearted film about making lemonade out of life’s lemons that will fill a couple of hours quite pleasantly.
As well as taking the lead role, Jon Favreau wrote and directed Chef, taking a bit of time out from directing Hollywood blockbusters to return to the sort of low-budget indies that he made his name with – Swingers is still one of my all-time favourites. He’s been able to call in a few favours this time so the cast list is a bit more starry, but the themes of loyalty and friendship and the general air of likeability remain.
Carl Casper is head chef at a successful restaurant owned by a man who values familiarity over risk-taking (Dustin Hoffman). After a bad review from a well-known food critic goes viral (everything is viral in Chef), he walks out, and thanks to the ex-husband (Robert Downey Jnr) of his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara) finds himself the proud owner of a slightly worse-for-wear food truck which he takes on the road with ex-colleague Martin (John Leguizamo) and his somewhat estranged son Percy (Emjay Anthony). That’s about it, plot-wise – I have to admit I was waiting for the characters to be in some sort of peril, but at the risk of being slightly spoilerish, there’s no peril here. Not for anyone. In some hands that would make for a dull old film, but Favreau gives us strong enough characters and ladles everything with such a big dollop of warmth and humour, that it’s actually quite a relief. Sometimes it’s enough just to see good things happen to nice people.
There are of course innumerable shots of amazing food. For me, a vegetarian on a 5:2 diet fast day, it probably wasn’t the wisest film to choose: Chef is peppered (and salted) with long languorous shots of sizzling Cubanos and the most delicious looking grilled cheese sandwich ever. My local cinema has wisely put Cubanos on the menu, I bet they are doing a roaring trade.
It’s a world away from the clever schtick of Swingers of course, but there’s a lot to enjoy here if you’re in the mood for something warm and tender. On a sandwich. With yuca fries on the side. God I’m hungry.
If you haven’t seen Bob Weide’s Woody Allen documentary, I heartily recommend it. Even if you’re not a fan of Allen’s films, it’s a fascinating if lengthy doc, and a reminder that this is a man who at his best, is nothing short of genius. Of course with an output of one film a year, some of them are going to be duds, and he’s had his fair share of those. Recently a bit more than his fair share, to be honest. And when you watch Weide’s film, there’s a poignant sense that maybe his best years are behind him.
But wait a minute. Just when it’s all gone a bit ‘move along, there’s nothing to see’, along comes Blue Jasmine. Whether making the documentary woke something in Allen that had been lying a bit dormant, whether heading back to the US to film inspired him, or whether he was just teasing us with the bad films safe in the knowledge he had a few corkers still in the bag… whatever, this is right up there with some of his best.
Blue Jasmine is essentially a character study of a woman trying to survive her own personal fallout from America’s financial meltdown, clinging on to her privileged life by her manicured fingertips. In the meantime, broke and in the throes of a nervous breakdown, she arrives in San Francisco to stay with her adopted sister Ginger, in her ‘homey’ apartment in San Francisco. Their relationship has been more than a bit strained since Jasmine’s husband Ponzied Ginger’s ex-husband’s $200k lottery winnings.
Cate Blanchett is being hotly tipped for some Oscar jollies for her shattering portrayal of Jasmine, and rightly so. It’s a superb performance, capturing the struggle to keep up appearances of someone who is addicted to drama, pills and alcohol, while keeping a lid on some serious mental health issues. It will give you a knot in your stomach for pretty much the entire film. But the entire cast are strong, from Sally Hawkins as the put upon but eternally good-natured Ginger, to Bobby Cannavale as her sweaty vested lover (frankly he can do no wrong in my eyes) and even Andrew Dice Clay surprises as Ginger’s hard done by ex husband. There’s also a great little cameo from Louis CK, though I would have liked to see more of him. There’s an electricity buzzing among the cast, it feels like they all realised this is Good Woody, and stepped up their game accordingly.
Word is clearly out on this one, there have been sellouts in screens across London and the packed audience I saw it with obviously loved it, though I heard a few less than favourable comments about the ending. But you know what – that’s life, sometimes there isn’t a perfect ending.