I’ve lived in London for just over ten years now, and if you’ve known me over that time, you’ll know I’ve put on a bit of weight. I’m pretty sure it’s not from lack of exercise, though having a job (and a hobby!) that involves sitting down all day probably doesn’t help. No, I suspect it’s because I like food, and anyone who also likes food (especially if they live in a large metropolitan area) can scarcely have failed to notice the rise of food trucks over the last decade as a delivery mechanism for more than just ice cream and hot dogs. You can get just about anything from trucks these days. In some American cities (like their spiritual heartland in the Pacific Northwest), they are often to be found rotating around a set of fixed locations (‘pods’, if you will) and turning up at all kinds of outdoor, beer or food festivals. Indeed, the concept of ‘street food’ has really taken off, especially in the wake of the 2008 financial crash. So this new film starring and directed by my compatriot in girthfulness, Jon Favreau, can at the very least be said to be on-trend.
In it we see Favreau as Chef Carl Casper at a staid suburban restaurant, where he doesn’t feel creatively stretched, despite having a great team (Bobby Cannavale as his sous chef, backed by John Leguizamo, and Scarlett Johansson on front of house duty). Things come to a head over the visit of and subsequent nasty review by a food blogger (Oliver Platt, touching on another trend), so Chef Casper heads off and, via a sub-plot involving Robert Downey Jr being appropriately RDJ-ish, gets himself a food truck. In truth, a lot of the drama feels a little forced, conflict added just to move the film along and add a bit of spice (as it were), especially the relationship between Chef Casper and his ex-wife and son. It’s like Favreau, having baited the foodie trend, felt the need to shoehorn in a touching story about father-son bonding.
This could all have fallen apart so very easily, but somehow Favreau manages to make it very charming, sweet but not too much so, with a soufflé-light touch. Key to this is that the film really likes all its characters. There’s conflict, sure, and big life changes, but this is a comedy in the classic sense and it wants the best for everyone (even the food blogger gets his redemption). The actors are all enjoyable to watch, especially John Leguizamo, while Sofía Vergara manages to make even her blowsy ex-wife character a likeable one. If some of the father-son moments are rather too saccharine for my taste, if they don’t raise my hackles like they would elsewhere, then perhaps I’m just a sucker for the setting after all. It’s not a film to watch when hungry, and thinking about it now, I could quite happily go for one of those cubanos Cuban sandwiches at which the food truck specialises. In fact, I was a bit disappointed that a truck hadn’t been parked up outside the cinema when I came out, and I imagine you will be too, unless your local cinema is really on its game.
Director/Writer Jon Favreau; Cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau; Starring Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, EmJay Anthony, Sofía Vergara, Scarlett Johansson; Length 114 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld Haymarket, London, Saturday 28 June 2014.