Monday, May 19, 2014

Chef Review

You know what it's been a while since I've had? Alaskan King Crab. I just want you to imagine this for a moment. You're sitting on the deck of a restaurant on the beach. It's sunset, and the waves are crashing against the shores with the salty wind blowing through your hair. Suddenly, your waiter appears and gives you a 2 pound Alaskan King Crab with a side of butter. You take the claw of the crab, rip it open, and find the plumpest piece of crab meat you've ever seen in your life. It's as thick as your index and middle finger together. You dip it in the butter, place it gently on your tongue, and let the flavors hit you like a train. A sense of divinity rushes through your body as you embrace the food in your mouth. If you are hungry after listening to that, then you'll like Chef.

Chef is a movie directed, written, and starring John Favreau, who plays a chef named Carl Caspar. Carl works at a nice place, has a nice salary, though he spends too much time with his job and not with his family. However, he's growing more and more frustrated at the fact that he isn't allowed to cook what he wants to cook and is instead restricted by his boss's menu. After a bad review and his boss stopping him from cooking the kind of food Caspar wants to cook, Caspar quits and goes to make a food truck to rekindle his love for food, and also maybe reestablish a relationship with his ex wife and son.

Kind of like my Captain America: The Winter Soldier review, I can't really get worked up about this movie, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it speaks about the nature of the movie. As I write this now, this whole article feels like a chore to me. Mostly because of two reasons; one, no one is really going to be seeing this movie because it's in such a limited release, and two, because it's one of those movies where you don't really know if you liked it or not. You know the kind of movies I'm talking about. This is one of those movies where you sit down, watch it, feel indifferent any way towards it, then move on from it. It's a cloud. It's the lazy Sunday of movies; you don't quite remember what happened during it, but you know that it killed time.

If you like cooking, this is your movie
That isn't to say that Chef is a bad movie. It's actually really enjoyable and nice to watch. It has genuine heart to heart moments in it, and the last half of the movie is a pretty damned fun road trip, with most of the main character traveling to major cities and eating lots of really good food. But the thing with this movie is that it has a small demographic its shooting for. If you're a foodee, or a person that goes gaga over food and the culture around food, this movie is right up your alley and should go see this movie right now. You'll love it and think that it captures what it means to be a chef and to love food. For the rest of you, you may want to put a bit of thought into seeing this movie or not.

Personally, what really sold me on this movie was one scene right smack dab in the middle where John Favreau is talking to Robert Downey Jr. for a solid three minutes. I saw the movie and I have no idea what the hell they were talking about, but I just remember it being really funny and Robert Downey Jr. being himself. However, I can't tell if his scene was just an outlier in the movie or not, and by that I mean was this movie supposed to be a comedy or not? It has wit to it, but wit is not the same as comedy. Wit is observation, snark, intelligence, but funny? Humor can be derived from it yes, but it's not the same kind of comedy that most movie goers go to see.

Comparing this to Neighbors, which is an undeniable comedy, while Neighbors had wit to it, it didn't define the movie. What defined the movie were the situations the characters inserted themselves into and how ludicrous the circumstances were. Here, wit is the main type of humor in this movie. There aren't any insanely weird sequences or over the top jokes, but instead a cynical man pointing out observations in a satirical fashion. Again, there's nothing wrong with that, but that's not really everyone's cup of tea.

The food they eat makes me jealous of the food I make
So Robert Downey Jr. completely owns the one scene he's in. Terrific. The rest of the movie though is a really enjoyable road trip, but the first half of the movie really... isn't. It's not that enjoyable because the main character is not enjoying himself. He feels oppressed and controlled by his work while simultaneously having no control in his work. Carl Caspar is not a good person, and that's only highlighted by how he explodes at a critic who critiqued his food and gave him a negative review. He explodes and makes a huge speech about how evil critics are (which I personally found to be a bit mean spirited, though well acted), and you can't help but feel there's a bit of bitterness in this movie. The first half of the movie shows how oppressive work can be and points out all the problems of having a job, where you sacrifice creativity in the name of making a living for yourself and condemns that idea.

The later half is meant to be a lot more fun and lighthearted so we can agree that yes, Carl is a much better person for quitting his job and being a creatively free spirit. Take that as you will, but I did enjoy the movie when Carl stopped being a mean spirited kind of guy. I don't like the meta commentary that goes with it, but that's just the way the cookie crumbles.

In short, here's another analogy for you. You go to New York City, and you see this little restaurant that you've never been to. It looks nice, so you decide to go inside. In there, you sit down and order an appetizer and an entree, both things are meals you've had before. As you wait for your food, you notice the restaurant is very small, but not in a comfortable sort of way. It's claustrophobic, and you feel uncomfortable sitting in there because the chairs have no back support. Then your waiter shows up with your food but before he gives you your appetizer, you and him talk a little bit and crack some jokes. He's a great guy and you know you're gonna give him a good tip. So you take the food, eat it, and man was it satisfying. Not "best meal ever" quality, but "I'm glad I came in here quality". You give the waiter a good tip, then you leave, making sure you pick up a card to keep in your wallet. That's this movie in a nutshell, and that's why I give Chef a 3 out of 5. Pretty good, but not good enough for me to give it that little extra boost.


Well that was more analytical than I thought it would be... remind me not to do that again.

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