Chef is the story of Carl Casper, who buys a food truck and tours the USA with his friend and his son after losing his job at a restaurant and losing his mind at a food critic, becoming an overnight internet celebrity. And that's it really - the story is simple, allowing the emotional hook of the film (Carl's relationship with his son) to be front and centre.
You can tell that a lot of love has been put into this film, and it really benefits by having faith in the premise and sticking to it. There are no unnecessary sub-plots or dramatic reveals that would have clogged up and complicated the film - it's a simple story with enough depth to keep you interested as it progresses. It allows room for characters to breath without losing direction, and it's always great to see a film that knows where its strengths lie.
Jon Favreau is great as our main character, playing Carl well enough to give him depth and warmth. The entire cast is great here really, but it is a shame that the big names of the film (Dustin Hoffman, Scarlett Johansson and Robert Downey Jr) get such limited screen time, despite the fact that their characters aren't really necessary to the story. Robert Downey Jr has the funniest scene in the entire film, but it's his only scene and it feels like he was too big for the character. It seems strange that these huge actors would be used for such small roles, but at the same time the characters they play would have been almost entirely forgettable without recognisable faces playing them.
It takes a while to get to the point where he actually buys the food truck though, and at two hours long it could have done with some more restraint in the opening scenes. The ending feels rushed but also overly stretched out - the emotional hook of the film between him and his son concludes, providing a natural ending point, but then the film carries on for 10 - 15 minutes, trying to resolve an element of the story that doesn't need resolving. This leaves the ending of the film feeling sudden and a little bit messy, but this is a minor flaw to an otherwise well made film.
This is Favreau at his best as both an actor and a director, creating a film that is nearly the best possible version of itself. It's a feel good film in the best possible way - I don't like buzzwords, but it really is a heart warming film. Characters never feel two-dimensional, the food all looks gorgeous and the emotional hook will keep you interested even if the plot itself doesn't. The main characters food reflects the film pretty well - stylish and well made, without coming off as pretentious.
Just don't watch it when your hungry.