IN ORDER to enjoy Chef, it's necessary to swallow the notion that there's anything novel about a fancy chef starting a food cart.
It's a bit of a strain—especially considering, well, Portland—but it's worth making the leap. Chef might be a little too taken with the concept of food trucks using Twitter, but on the whole, Jon Favreau (who wrote, directed, and stars) has put together a smart, ramblingly charming little film.
Favreau plays Carl, a once-promising chef who's settled into comfortable mediocrity at a high-end LA restaurant. When a critic (Oliver Platt) pans his food as "needy" and uninspired, Carl promptly has a public breakdown that goes viral and renders him unhireable in the fancy-food world.
Eventually, though, Carl finds his bliss: cooking Cuban street food from an old taco truck.
It's no coincidence that as I write this, there's a Cuban-style pork shoulder slow-roasting in my oven. I'll wager that anyone who enjoys cooking will walk away from Chef feeling similarly inspired. Chef is a great food movie, in touch with both the pleasures of home cooking and the pressures and camaraderie of high-volume restaurant cooking. The food truck conceit even allows for a little cross-country culinary tourism: barbecue in Austin, beignets in New Orleans.
But for all its foodie bona fides, Chef is mercifully unfussy. Carl is an awkward grouch, competent only in the kitchen—you know, just like most chefs you've met. And while a subplot about Carl reconnecting with his kid (Emjay Anthony) is cloying, it's offset by some legitimately insightful observations about how anxiety and unhappiness can sneak up on a person, quietly poisoning relationships. (We see this unfold via Carl's relationships with two of the prettiest women in the world: Sofía Vergara and Scarlett Johansson. Well played, Jon Favreau. Well played.)
Sure, Chef's a little long, and the plot offers exactly zero surprises. But in its palpable enjoyment of food, and friendship, and music, it's awfully hard to dislike.