In the face of so many blockbuster properties, it takes a healthy dose of courage to put up an independent movie in the summer season, but Open Road have done exactly that for Jon Favreau’s latest effort, Chef, and it’s promising to be one of the best movies we’ll see in the next few months.
The writer-director has of course spent the best part of a decade at the helm of films with a budget the size of which he’s now going up against – Cowboys & Aliens, Iron Man 2, and Iron Man all since 2008. And now he’s returning to his roots to bring us a low-budget indie comedy, and not only that, but he stars in the leading role as well.
The premise is pretty straightforward: Chef Carl Casper loses his job as head chef of a restaurant, and decides to go into business opening up his own food truck, giving him the opportunity to reignite his creativity in his job and to help bring his family back together.
If the first trailer was at all indicative of what we’ve got to look forward to, there’ll be plenty of laughs, some enviously delectable dishes, and an added pinch of wholesome goodness amongst family and friends.
Every summer, there’s usually at least one independent movie that breaks out from the pack – the ratio between independents and blockbusters that do is what must make things a little daunting for distributors when announcing a summer slot.
Last year, it was Blue Jasmine. The year before that, it was Moonrise Kingdom, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and Magic Mike. And the year before that, it was Midnight in Paris and Drive. Count the number of hits studios had with higher budgets, and it’s a completely different story. Last year, alone, for example, we had Iron Man 3, Star Trek, Gatsby, Fast & Furious 6, Now You See Me, This Is The End, Man of Steel, Despicable Me 2, Monsters University, World War Z, The Heat, Pacific Rim, The Wolverine, Elysium, and We’re the Millers, to name just a few.
It takes a strong comedy to even consider going up against franchises like The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Godzilla, and Chef will be sandwiched right between them across the Atlantic. But I have faith, folks. I have faith in Jon Favreau and the brilliant cast he’s assembled, I have faith in the cinemagoing audiences that they’ll take kindly to Favreau’s comedy, and I have faith that the film will be one of the few independent movies to rise above the surface in the next few months and make a name for itself despite the eight- and nine-figure budgets of its competitors.
Favreau is an incredibly smart man, that much is undeniable. In bringing his cast together, he chose very wisely, reuniting with Robert Downey, Jr. and Scarlett Johansson from his work on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, two of the biggest names and most-recognised faces in the industry. Johansson and Sofía Vergara – who’s made a name for herself amongst mainstream audiences in recent years in Modern Family – star as the female leads, with the beloved John Leguizamo taking the male supporting role, and the young Emjay Anthony adding an element of childhood innocence into the mix. And even if Tony Stark himself only has a small role, we all saw Downey, Jr.’s presence at SXSW to promote the movie with his long-time collaborator, and he’s sure to do the same in the coming weeks leading up to Chef’s release, raising the film’s recognition amongst the general public that much more.
So if the film lives up to its potential, it has the best possible shot at success, translated into box office dollars, pounds, and all the rest of the world’s currencies.
What’s most important, of course, is that it earns it.
As an actor and a writer, Favreau broke out simultaneously with Doug Liman’s 1996 comedy, Swingers. As a writer, and predominantly as an actor as well, he’s stuck with comedies throughout his career, and it’s paid off very well for him; Favreau is a genius of the genre, and to see him take a break from the big budgets to come back to lower-key movies promises to be a great move for both him and us.
Don’t get me wrong, I love his work helming blockbusters. Iron Man was a game-changer, no question about that. And Cowboys & Aliens is massively overlooked and under-rated, in my opinion. Nevertheless, it’s this comedy from Favreau that I’m more excited about than I was about Cowboys & Aliens.
He’s got perhaps the greatest cast he’s ever had in any of his directing projects. He’s got a premise that promises to be quite possibly the feel-good film of the year. And he’s delivered a trailer that shows some of that promise already being fulfilled. If things keep on this track, he can’t go wrong.
The only problem is that Universal’s R-rated comedy, Neighbors (titled Bad Neighbours here in the UK), starring Seth Rogen and Zac Efron, will be opening over the same weekend in the States. Whilst Nicholas Stoller’s comedy will arguably be eyeing slightly younger audiences, the kind of demographics drawn in by The Hangover and co., the two films both largely fall into the same overall category, and with Universal’s marketing campaign having a mightier weight at its disposal than Open Road’s, there’s a good chance that Neighbors will be opening bigger than Chef come the second slot in May.
Of course, with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 opening a week earlier, the two comedies are essentially fighting for second and third place, that much is all but guaranteed. For my money, I think it’s going to be Neighbors that comes out on top, and whilst I’m really looking forward to Rogen and Efron facing off, I think that Favreau’s Chef will be the better movie, one that stays in people’s memories for a good few years to come. And if all goes well, you can already feel the Independent Spirit Awards on the horizon.
Chef will be released in the US on May 9th and in the UK on 18th June.