Oscar Wilde once wrote that life imitates art; the way in which people live their lives are often based on their expressions through the latter. Chef, through Favreau’s eyes in meta-fashion, is a lot about losing oneself through drudgery and then finding a way back. Whether as an artist, a creative, or a father, everyone loses themselves, but pursuing the energy found in creative expression can be the basis for finding themselves again.
In a film that sees Favreau returning to his more intimate, indie roots, Chef follows famed and talented chef Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) struggling to balance both the kitchen and the home. Whether butting heads with his uninspired LA-restaurant owner (Dustin Hoffman) over a rote menu or inattentively taking care of his son, Percy (Emjay Anthony), Casper struggles with connection. Far removed from his famed days as Miami’s top chef, Casper struggles to come to terms with his still bubbling passion and the realities of his restricted means of expression. Eventually, he along with his ex wife, Inez (Sofia Vergara) and Percy return to Miami. There, Casper, Percy, and his fast talking but loyal friend (John Leguizamo), restore an old food truck and set off on the road, passion renewed.
The food truck is often romanticized among foodies and the public alike for its freedom of culinary creativity and juxtaposition of good food with dive bar characteristics. In Chef, it’s a way for Favreau to explore what it means to not only have had passion and vivacity but to also what it takes to find it again. Along the way, the trio, with their undeniable chemistry, encounter booming success and for Casper, a rediscovery of his own passions as well as a deeper relationship with his son. The film explores the intertwining threads of passion and veracity. A return to basics can be a liberating experience that brings clarity to the more important things in life–the ones that tend to shift out of focus as people age.
A festival’s opening night film has a heavier burden than the rest of its peers; the film must set the tone for the festival similar to how a film’s first scene is so vital to establishing tone. Chef doesn’t seek out to be ambitious or express any profound notions or be a technical achievement. It does, however, explore the more intimate subjects found in the way people can rediscover themselves through the people around them and the art they create. In that, it makes for a great, intimate and enjoyable film while also a great film in context to kick off the next 8 days of SXSW.