The Dancing Skeleton Marionette is back! DSM is kind of a hero around Casa ‘strom, having first encountered him as the only bright spot in the otherwise dreary Gloria. We cheered when we saw him in the trailer for Jon Favreau’s new film Chef, even after we’d forgotten what movie the trailer was for.
“Wait, we gotta go see DSM in his new movie!”
“Yeah! Wait, which one was it?”
[proceed to check all the trailers with no luck]
“Wasn’t it Chef?”
“I think so…maybe we saw a different trailer?”
Anyway, the mystery was resolved when my mother and stepdad announced they had seen it and we yelled, “IS DANCING SKELETON GUY IN IT?” And they affirmed, somewhat confusedly, that he was, though not for very long.
They don’t get DSM: He’s about quality, not quantity.
OK, digressions aside, Chef is the latest effort from Jon Favreau (of Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Cowboys and Aliens, Elf, and so on), and it is better than all those, and Swingers (which he wrote but didn’t direct), and very different from those as well, except in one regard.
This movie is unabashedly pro-American. It’s not political in any way, but check this plot out: A chef gets his mojo back by driving a taco truck across country and cooking local foods from Miami (cubanos) through New Orleans (beignets) through Texas (genuine barbecue) and so on, to Los Angeles, while teaching his son the art and ethics of cooking.
So, not only an American adventure but also a father-son movie, which made it two in a row after Peabody and Sherman.
Maybe America, and dads, are making a comeback.
We start with tattooed and doughy Chef Carl Caspar (Favreau) getting a bad review after his douchey (but not necessarily wrong) boss (Dustin Hoffman) insists that he serve a food critic (Oliver Platt) the same menu he’s been serving for five years.
Chef, as he’s known, learns about Twitter from his son, Percy (Emjay Anthony) and his cooking crew (Bobby Cannavale and John Leguizamo), but not well enough to not start a very public flamewar with the food critic.
Mayhem and Internet Celebrity ensue, but rather than try to parlay his notoriety into a reality show, as his ex-wife, Inez (Sofia Vergara) and his ex-wife’s publicist pal (Amy Sedaris, in a short-but-sweet role) would like, he very reluctantly decides to use Inez’ contacts (basically, her former ex-, played by Robert Downey Jr in another short-but-sweet role) to go the taco truck route.
So, he bids farewell to his sweetheart/hostess (Scarlett Johansson) and heads off on his cross-country road trip. And this time, social media, with the help of his son, turns out to be he his friend.
As does money. Which is just awesome. Making bucks doing stuff people like used to be a common sign of “good things”. Teaching your kids to do the same, with pride and honesty, did, too.
The food looks amazing all the way through, and Favreau got his chops (even if they’re pretend chops) from the real chef whom he was imitating (tatts and all) who shows up at the end of the credits. But just the way he makes a grilled cheese sandwich is amazing.
And like all great chefs, he’s not afraid to tell you what you should like, if you have any taste. This makes for some great moments with the kid.
It’s really just a heart-warming tale. There’s some language, some underage drinking, and a little weed, so it’s naturally rated R, but I was sorry The Flower had bailed at the last minute, because it’s really a family film.
We should probably talk about the love interest angle.
Now, if I’m writing/producing/directing/starring in a film, I might make my love interests Scarlett and Sofia, too, but some have, predictably, raised the “aesthetic imbalance” specter by questioning whether the large, balding Favreau could land those two birds.
I didn’t find it improbable. First, he’s a great chef. Chicks dig that. (As do guys, duh.)
But more than that, while Chef’s at a low point through a lot of this movie, Favreau still plays the character with considerable swagger, especially around anything relating to food. His crisis of confidence is centered around a nagging feeling that the food critic might be right.
Almost as if he’s at his low point when the movie starts.
This is only an issue if you think this is a movie about who some guy works for rather than a movie about being a man, and doing the right thing not just for yourself but for your family.
The Boy and I loved it, and it’s easily in the top 5 non-documentary films of the year, possibly the best to date. My mom (who also loved it) sez “Don’t go hungry.”
Plus! Bonus Dancing Skeleton Guy! (Fun ‘strom trivia: Mr. Bonetangles, as he’s called here, was piloted by Will Schutze, who was last seen in a minor role, one of the “triplets”, in the 2010 flick The Final.)