In 1996, Jon Favreau exploded onto the Indie-movie scene when he wrote and starred in SWINGERS. I was a big fan. I still haven’t seen his directorial debut, MADE, but it opened with mixed reviews. His next film, ELF is a hilarious and heartwarming family film. ZATHURA is a thrilling and well made family adventure. Then he hit the big time when he directed IRON MAN, which is my personal favorite of his films. He also directed the second IRON MAN and COWBOYS & ALIENS. After spending nearly 10 years making big-budget adventures, Favreau has decided to go back to his roots and make a smaller, personal project. The result is CHEF. Favreau plays Carl Casper, a well-known Chef at an expensive, but mainstream restaurant. He’s constantly battling the owner (Dustin Hoffman) to push the creativity of the menu, but the owner insists on playing it safe. But when a notoriously harsh food critic (Oliver Platt) dines at the restaurant, things go disastrously wrong. Now without a job, Carl must decide what to do with his career. He also has a son who lives with his ex-wife that he wishes to be closer with. With skepticism, Carl purchases a food truck and goes on a road trip with his son as they bond over what the chef knows best: cooking food. This movie is a welcome breath of fresh air. I haven’t been that thrilled about movies these past few months as I feel like the multiplexes are overcrowded with loud, special effects driven movies. I’m kind of getting numb about movies as I feel nothing “feels” special any more. But thankfully, CHEF has a ton of heart. It’s just a simple pleasure to watch. Favreau has sprinkled the film with likable and colorful supporting characters. All of Casper’s co-workers are a fun bunch, including John Leguizamo as his best friend. Platt makes a great food critic, and Robert Downey Jr is his usual eccentric self as Casper’s ex-wife’s ex-husband who is willing to help him invest in a food truck. The film has a very laid back, and leisurely atmosphere that makes it easy for the characters to interact with each other in a natural way. It makes the film real. There are two major components that make this film work as well as it does. The first being the food. This is pure “food porn”. It’s obvious that Favreau has a love for cooking, and it definitely comes through on the big screen. Showing Casper passionately make his food will make everyone in the audience drool. The camera captures all of these cooking scenes with a wonderful eye, making every dish appetizing. The second component is the most important one. And that’s Casper’s relationship with his 10-year-old son Percy. First of all, Emjay Anthony does a terrific job as Percy. A very natural young actor. Favreau does a great job showing these two characters bond in a realistic way. It’s something everyone can relate to. A kid trying to connect with his parent, and vice versa. As a parent myself, I found it very endearing. It’s touching, but not in a sappy way. This is an R-Rated film, so there is some strong language, but not to the point where you could call it raunchy. In fact, I would definitely bring my 10-year-old to this, cause I really think she could relate to some of the story elements. I’d definitely recommend bringing your son or daughter to this if they’re around the age of 11/12. Just a few F-words here and there. No biggie. The acting is good across the board. Favreau just has this everyman, likable quality that makes you wish that you actually knew him. The supporting cast is all good too, especially Dustin Hoffman. He’s just one of my all-time favorite actors, so it was nice seeing him in a meaty, but brief role. Favreau’s script is likable, but can be a little unfocused at times. It can be said that the story wraps up a little too neatly as well, but it still doesn’t take away from its likability. The film also runs a bit long, but that’s okay, because this movie isn’t meant to be tight. It’s has a deliberate leisurely pace that allows you to hang with the characters. The story is there, but it’s secondary to the character interaction. His direction is just as laid back as the script, which is just fine. I liked some of the nice technical touches to it, like every time a character tweets, the text shows up right next to the person entering it in on his phone. It’s little things like this that make CHEF feel special. This movie isn’t perfect. It’s not the best film I’ve seen this year. But it could be one of the most enjoyable films I’ve sat through the year. If you’re having a stressful day and you just want to relax, then go see this movie to hang out with some fun characters, some father/son bonding and gaze at good-looking food. This would be a perfect dinner/movie date. If you’re a food connoisseur, go see this! If you like father/son movies, go see this! And if you just like easy-going movies with likable characters, go see this! It’s charming, funny and real. CHEF is perfect counter programming for this overcrowded blockbuster summer. ★★★ (out of ★★★★) – Rated R for language, including some suggestive references. – Running time: 1hr 54min.