With half the narrative missing, this film's central argument fails to land.
An Incomplete Story
A sloppy meal that leaves one hungry for something substantive, Jon Favreau's Chef flops as it defends the right to flop. Contrast this with a film like Ratatouille that shares similar ambitions--yet succeeds at a higher level--and one begins to understand the difference between a capable narrative and a broken one.
Two huge logic errors curse this story: One, how did the passion to create new fantastic dishes suddenly turn into a fervor to heat up ham and cheese sandwiches? And two, why on Earth did Martin (John Leguizamo) leave his sous chef position to join Albert minutes after expressing excitement for his recent promotion? Both events reek of convenience of story rather than integral components of a fully functioning narrative.
Compound these missteps with the usual affronts to comprehensive storytelling and one begins to recognize the familiar recipe for disaster. No Influence Character Throughline. No Relationship Story Throughline. No Story Continuum. The last leaves Audiences flailing around blindly for some clue as to when the torture will end. A road movie that doesn't kick in until halfway through the movie is not a road movie. The first two story points (the Influence Character and Relationship Story Throughlines) work in tandem to give Audiences the heart of a story. When missing or defective, as in Chef, Audience empathy dies.
Albert's son should have supplied this valuable aspect of story, but unfortunately didn't. As a result, ham-fisted scenes like the one where Albert tells his son Hey, I know we're having a great time, but I'm going to go back to being a jerk when we get home worm their way into the story, breaking down all sense of emotional logic. That scene exists only to give Albert somewhere to grow. A more appropriate approach would have been to develop a meaningful relationship between father and son that counters and reflects the larger conflict inherent between artists and critics. Do sons have a right to criticize their parents? Should parents undergo appraisal? How does the recipe for effective parenthood reflect the tasty morsels found in mom and pop taco trucks across the Valley?
These are the kinds of questions Chef should have asked. These are the kinds of questions that would have prompted the development of Throughlines necessary to support and flesh out the message delivered here. Instead, audiences find themselves faced with sitting through what amounts to a single artist complaining about people complaining about his work. Great catharsis if you're the artist. Not so-great if you're the one on the receiving end.
91% on Rotten Tomatoes? Once again, confirmation that popular opinion reflects popular opinion, not sophistication of story.