Thoughts on the film "Chef"

I re-watched the film with my wife over the last two days. It’s a film I’ve wanted to revisit for a while but I knew I needed a bit of time. There’s a few storytelling elements that I really love in the film.

Here’s the super short summary

  • the critic at the start of the film is right.
  • Carl’s relationship with his son is the most important storyline
  • Restoring that relationship leads to his professional success
  • The final crisis is all of his own creating and echos the start of the film
  • He ends no longer needing the critics approval.

The critic is right.

Yeah, he’s blunt and rude with his criticism but he totally highlights Carl’s issues. He has no creative control (which Carl doesn’t realise at the start) and so his food is bland. Is he really a hater? I’ve seen this online sometimes where unless someone applauds your every move, they are a hater. You can’t offer constructive criticism because any criticism means you are a hater. To be fair, the words the critic uses are attacking the character of Carl so maybe he is a hater…in this case.

The storyline with his son is more important than his professional career

His professional career brilliantly mimics his relationship with his son (and was something I didn’t note when I first watched). At the start, he is just going through the motions with his son just as he is going through the motions at work. The difference is that he wants to be more creative with his work, he just can’t. With his son, he doesn’t seem to want to put in the effort because he is distracted by work.

The low point of his career is the low point of his relationship with his son. He goes viral on the internet, loses his job and cancels his plans with his son. This is the “dark night of the soul” moment of the film, where he is directionless and doesn’t know what to do. He has realised his problems in his last job, lack of creative control and stagnation, but he now has no options so he pushes his son away? We all know its the wrong option but it is understandable. He feels useless and doesn’t want his son to see him like this (oh hi pride).

By sorting out his relationship with his son, it leads to his work life improving.

Taking care of his son leads to him getting the idea for his food truck, he’s been presented with the idea before, but now he accepts it after his relationship is improving.

The final crisis is different from the typical “Hero’s journey”

The classic hero’s journey usually takes a different path, we usually have a bigger final conflict where the hero re-faces their old enemy. In Chef it is returning home. Carl starts to take the wrong path and pushes Percy away, but he changes his mind and this leads to our happy ever after ending.

Carl no longer needs the critics approval, but gets it anyway

This including the critic who tells Carl that he’s back on track. The best touch of this is that Carl no longer cares about the critic, he doesn’t need to impress the critic unlike the start of the film where he is dependent on his review. It helps to show his progress, but it isn’t as dramatic as the classic hero’s journey and facing the emperor on the death star.

Useful storytelling ideas

I really like the storytelling devices that Chef uses, some of the shots are great too. It’s not a high stakes thriller but it is a great feel good film.

Chris J Wilson @ChrisJWilson
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