Chef – A Review

Jon Favreau directs himself in a script written by him in and as Chef. That might sound off-putting but please let that not be the reason why you do refrain from checking out this little gem of a movie that is one of the best and most innocuous feel-good movie I have come across in a long time.

With a playbill that is stacked with the likes of Dustin Hoffman, Robert downey Jr., John Leguizamo, Oliver Platt, Sofia Vergara and Scarlett Johanson (no pun intended!) the movie is the story of a once-celebrated chef Carl Casper whose food inspired people one among who is a would be food critic Ramsey Michel. After 10 years in the industry Carl and Ramsey cross paths again and the result is far from palatable. What ensues is the main plot of the movie and it would be stupid of me to lay it out here in the review.

Jon F, John L and Amjay Anthony who plays Carl’s son Percy go on a road trip of sorts which acts as a journey of discovery of sorts. Carl finds his mojo back cooking the food he loves and finds in Martin a trusted sidekick and a friend for life. But more importantly, during the course of this journey he finds a way to connect to his kid, a way to pass on his passion for food onto the little apprentice who ends up being the main hero of the story as it were.

The movie does justice to the food it sets out to serve by highlighting the local specialties like the Miami’s little Havana’s Cuban Sandwiches, New Orleans’ Beignet and Austin Texas’ barbequed  Brisket. But the movie does not limit itself to the food, the self-discovery and the coming closer of a father and son, it goes on to make a point about social media. The new beast that can make instant celebrities out of regular food-eaters, movie-goers, compulsive-shoppers by allowing them their “blogging” space but also make instant fools out of people who in a moment of madness lose control and their actions are forever on the internet to taunt them and to trivialize any other achievement they may have had outside of that moment. But through Percy we see the power of social media which also allows the same fallen hero to rise up again.

Ultimately this is a movie that is not burdened by the compulsions of giving the myriad of stars their space on the reel; it is not burdened by clichés of which there are aplenty. It is a movie about a father and son taking a road trip eating their way through America and filling our hearts with a warm and gooey feeling that is not dissimilar to eating a chocolate lava cake.  This is an unmissable movie especially if you have a food dream like I do.  Take a bow Jon Favreau or a Michelin star if you must!

 

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The Hundred Foot journey – A Review

Lasse Hallstrom directs Helen Mirren, Om Puri and Manish Dayal in The hundred foot journey based on a story adapted by Steven Knight from Richard C. Morais’ book by the same name. Many have described this as slumdog millionaire meets Ratatouille as some sort of a championing of the movie. While I agree with the slumdog bit I do completely disagree with the Ratatouille which was in my opinion a more earnest and honest movie and perhaps the best Pixar have ever managed.

The story starts with Hassan at the immigration counter answering the questions asked by the officer that also works as a backdrop of quickly rushing through the backstory to how Hassan came to be in “Europe” after having already landed in the United Kingdom after having sought asylum following the Hindu Muslim riots in Mumbai where he lost his mentor – his mom. 

Back story done with we proceed to how they end up in the rustic French village with an abandoned villa/restaurant up for sale. This is the part where the movie is at its best as Om Puri the patriarch of the Kadam family digs his heels in to battle Madam Mallory played by the indomitable Helen Mirren the owner of the Michelin starred French restaurant.

There is a budding romance between Hassan and sous chef Marguerite which remains entirely unexplored. The culinary clash of the classical French and the boisterous Indian cuisines also is almost entirely forgotten except as an insult that Madame Mallory and Papa Kadam hurl at one another.  The editing and the screenplay leave a lot to be desired. Basing my judgment on a book review of Morais’ original material there seems to be a lot more meat in the book than what is presented on the screen. The episodes in Hassan’s rise to the top of the Parisian culinary world seem to be rather abrupt at best and callous at worst.  Take for instance the turn of events after Hassan earns the second Michelin star at Mallory’s restaurant he simply takes off for Paris because Marguerite says that he will be approached with offers. The despair Hassan feels while plating up pretentious food while in Paris seems unfounded and sudden and the decision to move back just as irrational. The frustration with the movie is because all the ingredients are present to plate up delectable dish that is as pleasing to the palate as it is appealing to the eyes but instead of gently whisking the yolks of the story on a bain-marie to form the perfect sabayon the director, the editor and the writers vigorously whisk it in the direct heat which ends up in a curdled mess. Another concern I have is with the research that has gone into this – Hassan and his family are presented as Muslims and yet the movie commits blasphemy by cooking the lamb in wine without any hesitation. I do not know if this is the lack of research on the part of the original book or another one of the blunders in the screenplay and direction.

There are some genuinely funny moments and some moments that hold promises but eventually what gets plated up is visually enticing but lacking the punch of garam masala and the restraint of the hollandaise. Watch it for a fine turn by Helen Mirren, Om Puri and Manish Dayal and for A.R. Rehman’s enticing background music.Also theres Juhi Chawla as lovely as ever playing Hassan’s mother – why isn’t she in more films is baffling to me.