So most of the time here at MVD you’ll find us reviewing movie soundtracks of old favourites (of which we have many) so it’s quite nice to do something current for a change. And the reason for this sudden contemporary burst is? Well, firstly I did a long transatlantic flight last week and whilst my in-flight movie choices were varied this was actually the only one that played all the way through without breaking up. Secondly, as it was it turned out to have one of the best soundtracks I’ve happened across in a while, one that I thought was worth bringing to your attention, so…
Chef is the brainchild of John Favreau (director of the Iron Man films amongst many other things; Robert Downey Jr makes a brief appearance in the film), who writes, directs and stars in the movie as Carl Casper, a Miami-born head chef working in a Los Angeles restaurant (owned by Riva, played by Dustin Hoffman who I’m sure used to get better roles than this. I digress…). Without wanting to give too much of a fairly thin plot away, Casper ends up leaving the restaurant after a public run in with a prestigious food critic and blogger ends up with an embarrassing video of the incident going viral. Social media, Twitter in particular, plays a central role in the film, as does his relationship with his son (who lives with his ex-wife, who he is still friendly with) and it is the son, Percy, who not only gets him tweeting but also then joins him on a summer holiday road-trip as Casper buys a food van and goes back to basics (and Florida) in an effort to reconnect with his creative mojo.
These two elements of the movie (the father-son relationship; the lost man/chef trying to ‘find himself’ again), work well enough without ever achieving a real sense of depth or gravity. Characters feel under-developed, the story fails to properly convince, and it lacks any emotional punch in places where some might have been welcome. The frequent use of Twitter sometimes feels a little laboured, as if this is a film trying a little too hard to be very 2014, and it´s something which will probably feel awfully dated in 10 years time.
Where it works best is when it centers on the other star of the movie – food, and these scenes are where it really comes alive, not least because Favreau’s obvious passion for the subject shines through. The culinary adviser for the project was a chef called Roy Choi, and in preparation for the movie Favreau not only worked in his kitchen for a while but also undertook formal training at a culinary school. Indeed, the dedication to this element of the film is such that unfortunately it only serves to underline how shallow the other strands of the film actually are. Taken as a movie about a man’s career and family this is a pretty average effort. When taken as a foody movie though, it has plenty to offer and it had me licking my lips on a regular basis.
What really adds fizz and crackle to the food scenes is the excellent (and I do mean that) soundtrack, which combines Latin, jazz, reggae, funk, and blues to sizzling (sorry) effect. Highlights include Pete Rodriguez’s “I Like It Like That” (featured in the trailer above), a scorching uptempo reworking of “Sexual Healing” by the Hot 8 Brass Band, plus top notch cuts by Liquid Liquid, Louie Ramirez, and Gary Clark. Actually, the whole soundtrack really cooks (sorry again) and contains one delicious morsel after another (I’ll stop now…). Included above and below are just a couple of favourites, however, the whole thing is on Spotify and well worth 45 minutes of your time. It’s a very tasty soundtrack indeed and it’s just a shame that the film itself ultimately leaves you feeling a little empty…