Chef - Blu-ray Review

'After helming effects-fuelled blockbusters, you might expect Favreau to have lost his touch with smaller scale cinema such as this, but time and again the director proves his indie credentials admirably'.

An opening note for fans of Guardians Of The Galaxy's retro soundtrack: Mathieu Schreyer, the music supervisor for Chef, shows how to really put together an unforgettable film score from existing sources throughout Jon Favreau's indie ode to edibles. Not since Tarantino's '90s output has a film's soundtrack been more skilfully selected and matched to a film's individual scenes and moments. Schreyer infuses the sounds of Latin America with those of New Orleans alongside blues numbers and a few cheeky nods to soul and hip hop. It's a sumptuous feast for the ear, blending different genres and moods in a way you might not expect - much like a chef bringing together the ingredients for a mouth-watering meal.

Matching Schreyer's soundtrack is Kramer Morgenthau's cinematography, in particular when shooting food being cooked and served up. Be warned: don't watch Chef when you're hungry, as the food here looks so good you'll end up snacking your way through the film. Morgenthau also captures superbly the mood of the different food-related environments seen throughout, bringing a indie-style frankness to the film that pays dividends.

Favreau too shows a keen directorial eye, using the camera to add depth to main character Carl Casper (Favreau) and his story. The titular chef is initially a sad character, beaten down by creative restriction and clearly carrying the weight of the breakdown of his family; Favreau uses simple but striking images to get to the heart of Carl's inner frustrations. After helming effects-fuelled blockbusters such as Cowboys & Aliens and the Iron Man films, you might expect Favreau to have lost his touch with smaller scale cinema such as this, but time and again the director proves his indie credentials admirably.

With nothing but praise for Favreau's film so far, it's seriously galling to report that his script too often falls short of matching the brilliance seen in other areas of Chef. The fundamental plot itself is fine, with Favreau's winning performance as the main character making him an easy figure to root for. It's when you look somewhat closer that the cracks become too evident to ignore. Carl's is a story of redemption after hitting rock bottom, and yet we never believe his fall to be all that great nor that there are any real obstacles in his way. Once Chef transforms into a road movie around halfway through, everything feels far too easy and convenient to ring true. By the film's conclusion, Favreau sadly allows himself to venture too far into the over-sentimental, his authentic starter and somewhat satisfying main course rounded off by an unpalatable, syrupy dessert.

The problems also extend to the supporting characters. Carl's relationship with his ex-wife Inez (SofĂ­a Vergara) feels too amicable to provide any real drama, although the dynamic between him and young son Percy (Emjay Anthony) for the most part feels more authentic. His friendship with Martin (John Leguizamo) however is less convincing, the character becoming too much like Carl's faithful puppy following him no matter what. Whilst the likes of Scarlett Johansson and Dustin Hoffman in extended cameos are certainly welcome, there's a nagging feeling that Favreau to some degree wastes the talents available to him, only getting it right with Robert Downey Jr. during his mid-film appearance and delivering arguably Chef's funniest sequence.

On balance, Favreau's is a good film with some excellent elements to be found within it. I certainly liked Chef a lot, perhaps more than my final verdict may suggest. Favreau the director is ultimately held back by Favreau the writer, which in turn holds back his enjoyable and well-made film from ever becoming a genuinely great one.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.


  1. Great review - I agree entirely! It started off with such promise and just fell a bit flat. I too found it bizarre how there were no obstacles or stumbling blocks at all. It seemed more of an excuse to shoot lots of pretty food and the picturesque southern US. I did like his character but just got a bit frustrated by its lack of depth. Still, it made me want to try a Cuban sandwich.

    1. Sounds like we both came away from it with the same experience Robyn. I really enjoyed it for what it was, but there just wasn't enough going on beneath the surface. I have since invested in the soundtrack album, however, which is entirely wonderful and has taken up semi-permanent residence in my car stereo.