Jon Favreau’s “Chef” is a charming movie that is just a joy to watch. Part of the Tribeca Film Festival, it was also shown to a preliminary audience by the New York Film Critics on April 23, 2014. After the screening, Favreau sat down to talk about it with Rolling Stone film critic Peter Travers.
I observed Favreau outside of the theater just before the Q&A, and his down-to-earth ease with fans made him come across as very much the everyman he tends to play on screen. In “Chef,” he is Carl Casper, a very talented artist of the kitchen, whose creativity is being reined in by the owner of the restaurant where he works (played by Dustin Hoffman).
When a critic trashes his food in a review, Carl snaps and quits his job. Meanwhile, he’s divorced from his wife (played by Sofia Vergara) and doesn’t have enough time for his son. (Young Emjay Anthony is an adorable revelation.)
Twitter is almost a character in the film, as Carl learns both the worst and the best about the social media site. A video of his fateful temper tantrum goes viral, and as a result, he has to reinvent himself. In the process, the film turns into a road picture with some sweet moments between Carl and his son.
Favreau wrote, directed, and starred in the film, and he cast it with some of his favorite fellow actors – Robert Downey, Jr., John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale, Oliver Platt, and Scarlett Johansson.
While there is some bad language – the F-word and the Sh-word – it’s a great movie for older kids. In the Q&A, Favreau said, “Kitchens are not PG places…. But I’m very comfortable with my kids seeing this. This is how people speak, and I think it’s a responsible film.”
Favreau directed the first two “Iron Man” movies, so he’s well-versed in the big blockbuster. He said it was nice to make a movie about real-world situations rather than escapism. Movies like “Chef” are more difficult in some ways, according to Favreau, because they’re character-driven. The main character starts out flawed and learns something through the events in the film.
When asked how much of the movie was improvised, Favreau said, “There was a lot of improv, but the people I work with are really actors first.” By that, he meant that they are committed to the story. For example, Robert Downey, Jr. and Favreau have one very funny scene together that was somewhat improvised, but they adhered to a very specific structure that served the story.
He said he likes to use multiple cameras so that both actors in a scene can be shot at the same time. With that kind of footage in the editing room, he has more options because the cuts will match.
Someone asked if Favreau found it difficult to direct himself rather than direct another actor. He admitted that he has a better time in a movie when he is doing nothing but acting, but he also said, “It’s almost easier because you don’t have to direct the lead.” I assume he has a “shorthand” with himself. He joked that he always arrived on set at the same time as the director.
The movie is partly based on the life of Chef Roy Choi, who taught Favreau cooking skills for the film and cooked the food on set (which the cast and crew apparently enjoyed immensely). Choi lost his job at a restaurant and started the first gourmet food truck in Los Angeles. He used social media to publicize it, and when he achieved enough popularity, he opened a restaurant. Now, he owns several.
Favreau spent time with Choi in the kitchen because he wanted the movie to be authentic. “I wanted the chefs out there to know that I understood what’s beautiful to them,” he said. “I wanted chefs or people from the food world to give me the nod.”
Favreau also talked a bit about his personal life. He’s married to a doctor, and they have three children. His father is a New York City school teacher who loves his job. From his dad, Favreau learned the importance of being passionate about your work. At the same time, the actor/director/screenwriter said that it’s vital to him to balance his life, so he spends lots of time with his kids.
When Favreau was asked about his own relationship to food, he joked, “Food is my mistress.” He went on to say that when you cook, eating it is almost anti-climactic and that the greatest thrill is seeing someone else enjoy your food. He said if you can get your kid to like what you cook and ask you to make it again, “that’s love – that’s heart to heart communication.”
Below is a clip from this very funny and touching movie, followed by the official trailer.