It’s nice to see Jon Favreau return to the indie roots that launched his career with the likes of Swingers (which he wrote, starred in and co-produced), having enjoyed considerable mainstream worldwide success with Marvel’s trilogy of Iron Man films. His light touches of underrated character work as a writer, as well as his consistent tone of humour as a director, seemed to struggle with large budgets (aside from said superhero trilogy) but are much better-suited to smaller, more personal stories. Of which Chef is most certainly one, and despite its A-list cameos comes across as a vaguely autobiographical story about having passion for what you do, in spite of any missteps or naysayers. In fact, the whole thing is almost certainly¬†a thinly-veiled metaphor for his career, but¬†more on that later.

The story of a chef whose career takes a hit, who then tries to rebuild it through renewed positivity and reconnecting with his loved ones, has been touched upon quite recently by Pixar, so it has strong and proven allegorical impact. There’s something distinctly more modern about this film though, as a screenplay it’s very much a 2014 film. It has a savvy understanding of social media, and an often frank recognition of harsher financial times and the meaningless nature of celebrity. The aforementioned personal touch also really brings out the best in Favreau as an actor, with the father of three finding an emotional weight to the scenes with his onscreen son not really seen before. There’s also an interesting attitude in the film towards critics, with Favreau almost breaking character at times to rail against them, but in the end reaching an understanding as to what their place is.

But the real juice behind this film is reading it as an allegory for Favreau’s time with Marvel. After the first Iron Man film was an unexpected smash hit, he allegedly had a difficult time with the sequel, feeling that his creativity was stifled by too much studio interference, resulting in a second film not as good as the first. It’s telling that although he remained attached to the third film as an actor, he declined to direct it, perhaps signalling that he’d had enough of all the hassle that comes with it. And so it is with Chef, where he struggles with Dustin Hoffman’s restaurant owner, who just wants him to do the same thing he did last time, and feels creatively stifled, leading to bad reviews. So he quits and does something smaller, something more personal – with more satisfying results. Cameos from Robert Downey Jr and Scarlett Johansson make all this abundantly clear. It’s a nice slice of bitter lemon to go with the more straightforwardly palatable main course.

Simple, enjoyably lo-fi indie stuff like Favreau used to make6
Recognition of real-world financial and emotional difficulties, albeit simplified7
A surprisingly balanced attitude to critics7
An allegory for Favreau's time making the Iron Man films with Marvel Studios9
Kind of like an autobiography, but with jokes and amazing food8
Bechdel Test Passes
  • Features more than one named female character
Bechdel Test Failures
  • None of the female characters talk to each other
7Overall Score

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