Monday, June 09, 2014

“Le Chef”– Movie Review




This weekend, my movie class had a bonus screening of the French comedy “Le Chef” starring Jean Reno and Michaël Youn.


When a famous chef is threatened with losing his job, will he be able to adapt to the new ideas from an aspiring chef in order to survive – even if it means abandoning some classic dishes in favor of molecular gastronomy?


Alexandre (Reno) is a highly-regarded chef of classical French cuisine; with his own television show and proudly cooking for a three-star restaurant, he has attained a rare level of success and notoriety in his country. Unfortunately, the executive at the management company that now owns the restaurant is looking to improve the business by updating the cuisine – and that involves getting rid of Alexandre, whom he believes is just too staid and unwilling to change or to try anything new and daring. Deep down, Alexandre suspects that he may be right – his success has made him too comfortable in what he already knows.

Jacky (Youn) is an aspiring chef who hasn’t yet found the right opportunity. In fact, he keeps getting fired from every cooking job he’s had because he’s just a little too fancy for the clientele dining wherever it is he’s working. This is becoming increasingly problematic due to the fact that his girlfriend is pregnant with their first child and she is demanding he have a steady income so that they can maintain some security and stability in order to raise their child. Ultimately, he winds up having to take a non-cooking position temporarily just as a subsistence job (and to keep his girlfriend off his back).

The executive devises a plan for getting Alexandre out: he’s inviting professional food critics to the restaurant to sample the new Spring menu. If their review is sufficiently negative that the restaurant loses one star of its three-star rating, then contractually, Alexandre can be fired. When Alexandre learns of Jacky’s cooking abilities – not to mention his detailed knowledge of Alexandre’s many inventive recipes over the years – he hires Jacky on a temporary basis to help him at the restaurant. But when Jacky suggests changing some of Alexandre’s classic recipes and including molecular gastronomy dishes on the new menu, will Alexandre be able to embrace the revolution in order to save his position or will he remain stubborn and resist any and all change?


Just as some cooking follows a recipe, so does certain filmmaking follow a formula. That appears to be the case in “Le Chef”, which has the feel of filmmakers who went down a list checking off boxes for every scene. Except for the fact that we’re in a different setting – the world of French fine dining restaurants – “Le Chef” has the déjà vu look and feel; we’ve seen this movie before. Same wine in a different bottle – except this one hasn’t aged terribly well. Despite excellent performances by Jean Reno and Michaël Youn, the material they have to work with is not quite as interesting.

After a while, “Le Chef” seems to go off the rails a bit when its comedy turns unexpectedly and inappropriately broad. Specifically, there is a scene where Alexandre and Jacky decide to go on a spying mission by visiting a competitor’s restaurant in order to see how the chef there pulls off the whole molecular gastronomy gimmick. They wind up going incognito for fear that they would be recognized; the disguises they wear for this scene are way over the top and are more reminiscent of an old Jerry Lewis movie (well, these filmmakers are French, after all … ).

“Le Chef” is a rather short film, coming in at under an hour and a half; while this generally tends to work well for comedies, it might be more the case that this came about as a result of the material being so thin. The filmmakers try to take on quite a good deal of other matters here, including Alexandre’s personal life; he has a dysfunctional relationship with his grown daughter who resents him for ignoring her throughout her childhood in favor of his career. This is wrapped up a little too neatly and it’s also unclear why Alexandre got custody of the daughter in the divorce. There is also another subplot that involves Alexandre exploring a possible romance, but that doesn’t go too far (nor did it need to). 

Le Chef (2012) on IMDb  

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