July 10, 2014
Chef (***) R
Jon Favreau, the writer/director/star of the summer indie Chef has always been a likeable presence on film, beginning with such early efforts as Swingers and Made. After he made a name for himself with those films, Favreau as a filmmaker opted for bigger budgeted crowd pleasers such as Elf, Cowboys and Aliens and the first two Iron Man films, trading in his indie cred somewhere along the way.
Judging by the end product of his smallest film in quite some time, Chef, Favreau seems to have made a wise decision by returning to his more modest cinematic roots. His newest film may not set the world on fire, at least in terms of storytelling, but one is likely to find it inspiring in much the same way that the filmmaker was obviously inspired to tell the story. It’s a film about finding one’s place in the world and, ultimately, doing what you were put here on earth to do, the building blocks of stories of which I never seem to tire and, in spite of a tendency to be a little too relaxed for its own good at times, Chef worked for me.
In terms of screen performances, Favreau’s portrayal of the lead character Carl Casper is probably one of his best thus far. Carl is a chef for a trendy LA eatery run by a boss (Dustin Hoffman) who insists that Carl play it safe and stick to what customers have come to expect instead of conducting experiments on his dime.
John Leguizamo, Emjay Anthony & Favreau in Chef
This, of course, isn’t in Carl’s nature and when an influential food blogger (Oliver Platt) pays a visit, he senses Carl’s heart isn’t in what he’s being forced to serve and gives him a negative review which proves to be the beginning of the end of Carl’s professional career.
Carl long ago lost his wife (Sofia Vergara) and his son (Emjay Anthony) due to his workaholic tendencies. When his ex-wife suggests starting up a food truck, Carl is against the idea but with the support of one of his former colleague (John Leguizamo) begins to warm to both the idea of starting something new and using it as an opportunity to get to know his son better.
Chef is a very relaxed film. It doesn’t get in any sort of hurry in terms of letting its story unfold and that could be a problem for some viewers. For the most part it suits the story attempting to be told here, although, the film does veer toward overlength just a small bit during its final section. I suppose that’s okay considering that Chef is the type of film that we’re seeing less and less of during the summer movie going season. It has such an inspiring message at its core and such a sweet nature that I’m betting you’ll be willing to forgive it for any such cinematic transgressions, much as I did.
Tammy (* ½) R
While sitting through actress Melissa McCarthy’s latest comedic romp Tammy, I couldn’t help but wonder why they didn’t just call the film Megan. Pardon me, if you will, while I elaborate. In case you don’t remember, Megan is the name of the character that McCarthy played in the 2011 film Bridesmaids. That role proved to be her ticket to both an Oscar nod and a career as an A list actress. The trouble is that, more or less, Megan is the same character that McCarthy has been playing in all of her subsequent films since the breakout success that Bridesmaids provided her.
For instance, if Megan had stolen some stranger’s identity, you would have the film Identity Thief. And, if Megan had decided on a career in law enforcement and wound up being paired on screen with Sandra Bullock then you would have The Heat. You get the point. I suppose what I’m saying is that, in spite of the fact that audiences have thus far been showing up in droves to witness the actress’ on screen shenanigans, I can’t help but wonder when, if ever, we’re going to see something other than the slovenly, loudmouth, bull in the china shop persona that seems to turn up in all of McCarthy’s projects.
I have a feeling that perhaps Tammy might be the turning point for audiences. Of the films which McCarthy has received top billing in the credits, Tammy is certainly the worst. And that’s saying something considering that The Heat and Identity Thief both made my year-end worst list last year.
Susan Sarandon & Melissa McCarthy in Tammy
This time out, though, McCarthy and her husband Ben Falcone are the sole culprits to blame for this mess. The fact that the actress spent six years attempting to get the film made, all to no avail, until she became the comedic flavor of the moment, should tell you something. Some vanity projects are best left unmade and this one certainly fits that bill.
Tammy is a down on her luck waitress in an atypical greasy spoon café. When Tammy discovers that her husband has been cheating on her with Toni Collete (and, when one contemplates domesticity with someone along the lines of Tammy, it’s awfully hard to blame them) she announces to her mother (Allison Janney) she’s going to hit the road. The trouble is that she also has no wheels of her own and cooks up a plan to make that road trip with her grandma, (Susan Sarandon, who certainly deserves better than this) who actually has a mode of transportation. From there on it’s the usual collection of gross out gags that might have played better if the lead character as written didn’t come off so distastefully in the first place.
It certainly isn’t that McCarthy doesn’t have talent. I just find it alarming that she insists on doing the same tired shtick every time out of the gate. This is the second year in a row we’ve had to endure McCarthy’s one-note persona. I just hope she manages to prove she’s more than a one-trick pony before it’s too late.
Tammy is playing all over this area. At press time, Chef is playing only in a few theaters in Charlotte.
Questions or comments? Write Adam at email@example.com.