This week's top pick is one of the surprise hits of the summer - "Chef". Directed by and starring Jon Favreau, it's a feel-good comedy that will leave you smiling and salivating over its culinary charms. The film's story may be simple, but it makes up for it with it's big heart.
Jon Favreau stars as the titular Chef Carl Casper, a man who is stuck in a rut. After years of overseeing an acclaimed menu at his Los Angeles restaurant, his output has become boring and uninspired. Eager to prove he's still relevant, he plans to experiment with a new menu, just in time for a visit from a top food critic. Unfortunately, the owner rejects the idea and forces him to stick with his traditional offerings. It ends in disaster, as the restaurant receives a scathing review. A social media meltdown follows and Casper is soon out of a job. Hoping to clear his mind and rejuvenate his passion, he heads to Miami with his ex-wife and son for the summer.
What follows is a journey through the USA as Casper goes back to basics, selling Cuban sandwiches out of his newly acquired food truck. Joining him are his son and former co-worker Martin (John Leguizamo). It's an unusual situation (fast food seems far too menial for an ambitious chef), but it pays off in the end. Indeed, the "food porn" aspects are merely backdrop for the heartwarming road trip adventure at the core.
While there are certainly enough delectable meals to appease the Food Network junkies, the narrative's pleasures are much more elementary than the chocolate lava cake which causes a stir in the first act. There's just a sincere expression of joy that emanates from the film. From the adorable father-son bonding to the communal experience of creating and eating food, it reminds us that our jobs should enrich our lives (rather than just provide a paycheck). It's a desire we can all relate to and it's key to the film's success.
Another major source of delight in "Chef" is the casting. The ensemble features a number of well-liked actors - including Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, Sofia Vergara, Robert Downey Jr. and Bobby Cannavale - and they all seem to be having a great time. It's like a dream guest list to a dinner party.
"Chef" may not be the most ambitious film, but its engaging warmth is acutely felt in every frame. You'll hardly ever find a film that's as easy to watch. It's like the cinematic equivalent of comfort food.