Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Chef [2014]

MPAA (R but should be PG)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  ChicagoTribune (2 1/2 Stars)  RE.com (3 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (4+ Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
RE.com (S. Wloszczyna ) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

Don't let the absurd R-rating fool you, Chef [2014] (written, directed and starring Jon Favreau) is a lovely family oriented / Hispanic oriented film celebrating food, family and getting one's priorities straight.

Carl Casper (played by Jon Favreau) begins the film as a divorced, career driven, head chef at a trendy L.A. restaurant whose owner (played by Dustin Hoffman) while making some allowances for Carl's talent, idiosyncrasies and yes ego, at the end of the day makes it clear who's boss in HIS restaurant.  As such, while certainly talented and just as certainly driven, Carl begins the story frustrated even as the costs of his (in Catholic parlance) "disordered passion" are obvious to all but to him: Not only did Carl drive wife Iñez (played magnificently here by Sofia Vergara) away, but he also stood to lose their 10 year old son Percy (played by Emjay Anthony) who Carl would only "fit into his schedule as he had the time."

Well this unstable situation, of course, could not stand.  So in hopes of impressing a random if irritating/blowhard food critic (played again magnificently by a young Roger Ebert-looking Oliver Platt) Carl has a public melt-down at work, causing him to get fired by his pushed-too-far boss.  And since this is the age of social media, his public meltdown in front of a restaurant full of customers was captured on cell-phone video and posted quickly on YouTube rendering him all but unemployable.

So what to do now?  He finds himself having to depend on some of the people who he had previously pushed away, notably his ex, who's been telling him for years that he'd be happiest if he worked on his own -- if perhaps starting-out in a food truck.  Pulling some strings (notably with another ex of hers ... played by Robert Downey, Jr), she gets him that food truck -- back in her home town of Miami.  With his other bridges burned, Carl decides to "eat some crow" ... and flies out to Miami to get said truck.  The rest of the story proceeds from there:

The truck's of course a mess, but help of a Cuban-American friend named Martín (played again magnificently by John Leguizamo) who had previously told him that if he ever got his own place, EVEN IF IT WAS "JUST A FOOD TRUCK" (back then it was just a joke ... ;-), he'd drop everything to be his "sous chef."  So hearing that Carl got said food truck back in Miami, Martín does drop everything to fly out to help him.  And with his help, Carl is able to fix said truck and then with Martín and 10-year-old Percy goes on a wonderful cross-country "road trip of discovery" from Miami, through New Orleans and later Texas back to L.A. serving both "Cubanos" (cuban sandwiches) and whatever local cuisine they meet along the way.  The film will honestly make your mouth water, even as it's making mine water as I type now ... ;-)

Along the way, of course, Carl reconnects with his son and gives him memories that will last both of them a life time.  He also discovers that he really did have friends, in Martín, and even in his ex-wife Iñez.

I honestly don't understand the R-rating because the ending (as indeed the whole story) is about as "family oriented" and POSITIVE as it gets.  And yes, it all ends as happily as it possibly could.

It's just a lovely, lovely film about friends, family, and having patience with a loved one who first loses his/her way and then works his/her way back getting his/her priorities straight.  HONESTLY A GREAT (HISPANIC ORIENTED) FAMILY FILM!


I would also add that one of the food places showcased in the film -- The Versailles Restaurant on 8th Street ("Calle 8") in Little Havana/Miami -- I know quite well.  I used to be stationed at a (then) parish of ours in the Orlando area and I'd occasionally have the opportunity to go down to Miami.  I thank my good fortune that the first time that I did so, with a couple of visiting Servites, that I had the sense to ask at a Catholic book store (also on "Calle 8") "Hey, BTW, what'd be a good Cuban Restaurant here in Miami?"  They immediately responded "Why the Versailles, of course."  It's a great place, open nearly 24 hours a day, with very, very reasonable prices and _by legend_ is the place where the 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion was both planned ... and betrayed (the latter supposedly by a traitorous waiter ... ;-).  Anyway, the place is a well known landmark / treasure and certainly worth the stop if one ever has the good fortune of passing through Miami.

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