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2014’s Hidden Treasures: Chef

Movies like Chef come along every once in a while to balance out all the serious shit I watch & enjoy each year. In 2011 some of my favorite films were Faust, Once Upon A Time In Anatolia, Shame & Drive. Even the comedies and other seemingly “lighthearted” movies that I loved that year were centered around issues like suicide (Monsieur Lahzar), mass-murder (God Bless America) and deceased loved ones (Alps). Because I was consumed with so much dark content that year, I took to Midnight In Paris to lighten up the mood. In 2012, 21 Jump Street & Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie served as the counter to Post Tenebras Lux & Amour. Last year, the comedic elements in films like Newlyweeds & Frances Ha balanced out Bruno Dumont’s depressing double feature of Camille Claudel 1915 & Hors Satan (Newlyweeds &Frances Ha also got me to kinda like New York City again for a short period of time, but that eventually wore off). Besides Boyhood, most of my personal favorite films from this year so far are rather drab or have tons of violent murders. Both Stranger By The Lake & Li’l Quinquin are about serial killers, Night Moves focuses on terrorism (a more unconventional side of terrorism, but still…terrorism is terrorism) and Timbuktu is just downright depressing (there’s a scene of a woman getting stoned to death). See what I mean? I need a (TRULY) lighthearted movie like Chef to keep me grounded.

Chef is definitely lighthearted, but it isn’t mindlessly lighthearted. A big part of the story deals with the (POSITIVE) relationship between a father & son. That’s still not very common these days (I do recognize & appreciate Richard Linklater & Ethan Hawke’s attempt at showing a more complicated side of fatherhood in films like Before Sunset & Boyhood, but positive fathers are still scarce in modern film).

Phones, mobile devices and other various forms of social media play a major part in Chef.

Phones, mobile devices and other various forms of social media play a major part in Chef.

In Chef everything falls perfectly in to place for John Faverau in an incredibly unrealistic way. But dammit, why not?! Why shouldn’t John Faverau get with BOTH Scarlett Johansson & Sofia Vergara by the end of the film? Why shouldn’t his food truck business turn out successful and bring him tons of money? If the films of Bruno Dumont & Michael Haneke are allowed to exist with all the praise they get (well…I guess Dumont’s films aren’t always praised, but still…), why can’t the opposite exist? Sorry but if suicide, murder & depression can exist within the same 100 minute movie, then so can success, riches & hooking up with attractive women. There’s a ying and a yang to everything.
In Chef, John Faverau stars as “Carl Casper” – a talented chef at a hot new restaurant who ends up butting heads with his boss (played by Dustin Hoffman) over what kind of food to serve. After a hurtful review from a big time food critic and a public meltdown that gets videotaped and blasted all over social media, Carl steps out, with the help of his former co-worker (played by John Leguizamo), his son, and funding from his rich ex-wife (Sofia Vergara), to start a food truck business that quickly becomes a success. Along the way there are a few bumps in the road (mostly having to do with the relationship between Carl and his son) but for the most part everything kind of just works out. Seriously, that’s pretty much the whole movie.
I’m sure a feminist or someone with plenty of time on their hands to over-analyze things (something I’m guilty of doing from time to time) could easily break Chef down as the ultimate male fantasy if they wanted to. Seriously though, how convenient is it that the protagonist not only hooks up with two of Hollywood’s most attractive actresses, but is also able to get a ton of money and support from his ex-wife without any strings attached? But for me Chef was just a non-threatening good time that put a smile on my face. Shit, the only other movie that made me laugh/smile that much this year was Nightcrawler, and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to enjoy that movie the way I did.My only gripe with Chef is the shot that John Faverau tries to throw at critics & bloggers. Even though the villainous critic (played by Oliver Platt) who goes after Carl in Chef is a food critic, it’s more than obvious he represents all the movie critics & bloggers out there today. We do live in the age of internet trolling and a lot of movie critics/bloggers these days are more hurtful & immature, but it’s embarrassingly transparent when filmmakers try to take jabs at the one-note evil critic character. No filmmaker has yet to TRULY make fun of or call out critics in any kind of original way (we get it, famous people – you all think critics & bloggers are fat pimply deflecting losers that live in their mom’s basement. Ouch). But if you make bad movies (like a lot of filmmakers who attack critics are guilty of doing), don’t get mad when someone criticizes your work (that’s not the case with Faverau btw. I’m just speaking in general).Remember that scene in M. Night Shayamalan’s Lady In The Water when the unfriendly movie critic character (played by Bob Balaban) gets killed by that monster? It’s like, of course fucking M. Night Shayamalan would do some shit like that. I know critics have been unkind to his post-Unbreakable filmography, but still – his movies aren’t that good (certainly not as bad as some people make them out to be, but still – not very good).As you can see, the whole filmmakers vs. critics/bloggers thing is much bigger than John Faverau, so I gave him a pass with Chef (he actually makes peace with the antagonistic critic by the end of the movie). I honestly have yet to personally come across anyone who disliked this movie (my fiancée Sharon and PINNLAND EMPIRE contributor Rob Cotto are among the folks who gave it rave reviews) and that counts for something. Don’t be surprised if this movie pops up in more categories than one next month when I give my end of the year review…

This article originally appeared on Pinnland Empire.

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Marcus is a contributing author for CutPrintFilm and Editor in Chief of <a href="http://www.pinnlandempire.com/">Pinnland Empire</a> You can also hear Marcus on the <a href="http://www.syndromesandacinema.com/">Syndromes & a Cinema</a> podcast.

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