Jon Favreau's new restaurant-world film Chef premiered at SXSW in Austin this weekend, and early assessments have been mixed. There are those who assume Favreau's ranting against a restaurant critic (played by Oliver Platt) is a stand-in for the producer/director/actor's feelings towards film critics, and those who vehemently deny the possibility. Some thought it was slow, some thought it was an independent return-to-form for the Swingers director; some thought it was sappy, some thought the restaurant imagery was spot on, some thought it was just fine. Below, check out the first opinions on Jon Favreau's Chef, and do check out Eater's interview with Favreau from earlier today.
The Good News: John DeFore at the Hollywood Reporter enjoyed the movie despite a few hiccups: "A small-scale personal-growth comedy from a filmmaker recently known for SFX blockbusters, Jon Favreau's Chef enlists a top-shelf cast for a film as earnestly emotional as Swingers and his family-centric adventure Zathura. The story, revolving around food but really concerned with any sort of personal creative drive, may lack the ingredients of a mainstream comic hit; but audiences drawn in by its franchise-worthy cast will likely respond warmly." [THR]
The Great News: Matt Donato at We Got This Covered loved it: "Mothers always like to tease that their meals are better because they're cooked with love, but Jon Favreau gives beautiful meaning to such a phrase with Chef. This is his labor of love, his epic return to indie form, his passion project that so desperately needed to be developed — a story that's been building for years in the mind of a brilliant, thoughtful filmmaker... Cooking isn't just a primal instinct, it's a passion-filled act that lets a chef's true spirit, his soulful makeup, be injected into each and every delectable bite. Filmmaking requires that same, laborious passion, and Jon Favreau blends both worlds perfectly to create a succulent masterpiece oozing every ounce of the filmmaker's soul — a crowning cinematic achievement in Favreau's famed career." 4.5 out of 5 stars [We Got This Covered]
The So-So News: Matt Odam at the Austin American Statesman writes, "After almost a decade of making movies with nine-figure budgets, Favreau returned to indie filmmaking with a script that he hammered out in a few weeks after being struck with inspiration. The end result is a slight (passion or vanity, depending on how you look at it) project that feels like it was tossed together in short order, and finds Favreau unevenly blending blue humor with treacly family-friendly themes." [Austin 360]
The Really Really Bad News: Drew Taylor at Indiewire doesn't hold back: "To borrow one of the many lame metaphors it employs, Chef feels horribly undercooked. But if you want to see a self indulgent, hubris-driven car crash where the filmmaker uses his latest narrative as a thinly-veiled defense of his past career transgression, this is the movie for you. A phony and hokey return to origins, it's unclear what's worse: Favreau delivering a repast less substantive than the tone-deaf Happy Meals he's been making for the past decade, or his genuine misguided belief that he's prepared an authentic home-cooked meal." D- [Indiewire]
The Mom's Home Cooked News: William Bibbiani at CraveOnline found Chef easy to digest: "One gets the impression in Chef that the director loves these characters and sympathizes with the motivations behind even their most egregious mistakes. Not that Chef tackles the sorts of mistakes people make that would genuinely ruin their lives — everyone stays out of jail, obviously — but by keeping his story compact and tender he effectively implies that we are all living in a compassionate and fundamentally understandable world. That may be a comforting lie but if nothing else Chef is a comfort food: not terribly filling but delicious all the same." 8 out of 10 [Crave Online]
The Overwrought Food Metaphor News: Henry Barnes at the Guardian thinks Chef veers toward the home cook rather than a professional level: "By taking a step back from the catch-all requirements of blockbuster cinema he's serving us a home-cooked meal rather than a Big Mac. You appreciate the effort. Like most home cooking there is nothing here so bad that it needs to be sent back to the kitchen, but there's nothing that's particularly moreish either." 3 out of 5 stars [Guardian]
The Autobiographical News: Perri Nemiroff at Collider thinks the central conflict of Chef, which revolves around the chef character losing his cool at a critic and subsequently being fired, is Favreau's thinly-veiled rant against film critics: "Chef is essentially Favreau's way of expressing how he feels about pouring his heart and soul into a movie, only to have the piece torn apart by critics. It's incredibly heavy-handed, but he still manages to present that blunt plea in a relatable and highly entertaining fashion." Favreau addressed that parallel in an interview with Eater earlier today. A- [Collider]
The Non-Autobiographical News: Drew McWeeny at HitFix, who calls Chef Favreau's "best film in years," disagrees with an autobiographical read: "This is not a movie about a guy learning that critics are stupid and useless. Not at all. If anything, the film argues that a critic can sometimes offer someone a perspective on their work that they could never reach by themselves, and the harshest review can also be a heartfelt wake-up call." [HitFix]
The Super Overwrought Food Metaphor News: Erik Davis at Movies.com "provided [a] four-course tasting menu that best reflects the tone, themes and emotions on display in Jon Favreau's Chef. The author has also added an optional Favreau movie pairing with each course." Courses include "Butternut Star Salad with Organic Eye Candy," "Chorizo Stuffed Egos on a Bed of Mixed Failure," "Braised Relationships with Mashed Personalities and Downey Jr. Gravy," and "Molten Chocolate Love with Passion Fruit." [Movies.com]
The Roy Choi Stamp of Approval News: Neil Miller at Film School Rejects notes that the movie seemed made to be shown at Austin's SXSW ("It is a movie about good food and music with a cameo from Austin's favorite city (Austin), after all") and notes that "Roy Choi, owner of the famous truck Kogi... said in a Q&A after the movie that he was proud that this movie was able to get what happens in the kitchen right, where other movies often fail." C+ [Film School Rejects]
The Food Truck to Nowhere News: Joe Leydon at Variety writes, "Chef goes nowhere fast, which will be part of its charm for some, and a mild-to-major irritant for others. Favreau takes his own sweet time getting Casper into the food truck, and off on his journey. And after the road trip finally does get underway, the film dawdles unabashedly, whether it's stretching out an encounter with a Miami cop for surprisingly amusing effect, or pausing to enjoy a few hot licks by Austin blues guitarist Gary Clark Jr. at a BBQ restaurant."
The Chefs Will Like It News: Meredith Borders at Badass Digest thinks non-restaurant workers may have a tough time with this one: "One of my closest friends is a career chef, and to be honest, he can be a real persnickety pain in the ass. He's quick to call out inauthenticity in fictional kitchens, and he presents a "if you've never worked in a kitchen, you don't get it" point of view at every opportunity. I think he will quite like Jon Favreau's Chef, the opening night film of SXSW that tosses out phrases like 'family meal' without pausing to explain them to the uninitiated, and maybe that's the best compliment I can give it." [Badass Digest]