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On the Silver Screen: ‘Chef’ is delectable

There is a whole genre of movies known affectionately as “foodie films.” Movies Like “Water for Chocolate,” “Eat Pray Love,” Babette’s Feast” and “Eat Drink Man Woman” use food as a metaphor, yet engage our senses in the most basic and delightful ways. “Chef” joins that pantheon of “foodie films.” Like its predecessors, “Chef” sent me out of the theater craving something to eat. In this particular case, a Cuban sandwich or cubano.

I will add “Chef” to another category known as the “likable” movie. It can be on the same list as “About A Boy,” “ET,” “Driving Miss Daisy,” “On Golden Pond” and the like. These films have an irresistible quality and a certain authenticity of human emotion that compels us to look favorably upon them. I look very favorably upon “Chef.”

This is a smart, sweet and nice film about nice people wanting happiness through honest endeavor and true merit. It is also a very funny movie, written, directed and starring Jon Favreau in the most surprising performance of the year so far.

Favreau plays a chef in an upscale restaurant. As a chef, he has gained a fair amount of fame and praise from Los Angeles’ most renown food critic, played by the always spot-on Oliver Platt. After 5 years of praise, the food critic revisits the restaurant to reassess the chef’s culinary skills, with hopes that his favorite chef is still pushing the envelope.

What stands in the way is the eatery’s owner, marvelously played by Dustin Hoffman in a sensational cameo. Seems he subscribes to the belief “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Chef however wants to “fix it.” What ensues after this set up is unpredictable, funny, surprisingly dramatic and heartwarming.

Yes, it is a feel-good movie, but of the highest caliber. Not corny, not pandering, just a lovely slice of humanity. Thrown in is a healthy dose of commentary on social media that is wisely stated and completely convincing. And there’s the food – ah, the food – mouthwateringly convincing, as well.

“Chef” starts out as a situation comedy, then transitions into being a road movie, then transitions again into a humorous study of familial love and ends with a rather inevitable climax that we the audience see coming but are thankful that we were right.

The cast is pitch perfect. Sofia Vergara shows a soft, lovely side we never get to see on “Modern Family.” John Leguizamo effortlessly portrays Favreau’s sidekick with nary a false note. Emjay Anthony as the chef’s young son is in a word - remarkable. My only quibble is that Robert Downey Jr.’s character is written so out of sync with the rest of this sweet-natured film. Acted out of sync as well, it is a brief vulgar bump in an essentially fine comedy of heart and quiet triumph.

As for Jon Favreau, he is simply great. As a writer, director and especially actor, I feel Favreau has finally come of age, as an artist. His talent has matured considerably. He may just be on an upward trend of filmmaking, giving us a body of work that could approach the likes of such auteurs as Woody Allen and Mel Brooks. Whatever the case, “Chef” stands on its own as an original work of quality that will delight and amuse all who choose to see it.

Take a break from the summer superheroes and enjoy a fine comedy about a super chef that is superhuman. “Chef” is currently in theaters.


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