Chef Jon Favreau (USA
2014) Jon Favreau; Robert Downey; Scarlett Johansson
Cinema Newcastle 9 July 2014; ticket
Listen to the
usually expect these types of Hollywood productions to be a sales medium. Either selling some abstract American value:
desire, overcoming, cheap redemption, folksy wiseacring (sometimes called
philosophy) etc.; or to peddle a nice line in product placement. Chef plays true to type. But not only is Chef is an ‘overcoming’
American morality fable presented with tasty side dishes of product placement
(Mercedes and Apple), it is also a promotional feast. It
goes the whole hog and sells the script the screen-space and verbal plugs, lock
stock and pork barrel to one product.
I think Chef is simply a two hour promo for Twitter Inc.
This is perhaps the brave new age of film production.
As we watch Chef we witness the realisation of E Doc Smith’s futuristic vision: the nightmare of the psychic penetration of commercial interests into the very grain of life. The corrupting or simply changing if you prefer, of the nature of our perceiving.
My feeling is that Chef is an act of deception. Chef dupes the viewer into believing they are watching a movie whose sole and overt purpose is to entertain and engross. Whereas the audience are in fact lured into watching a premeditated commercially motivated film whose covert purpose is the promotion of a social networking platform. As the film progresses Twitter becomes the plot driver, not only plugged verbally, but taking up ever more of the picture screen with its own separate window.
Favreau may argue that films must incorporate social media if they are to reflect today’s relations and social action. My response is that if the products of large corporations are to be central drivers of a script then unless that script has an axis that is quite distinct from that product, then we are watching a corrupted piece of work. An extended ad. If the script has an axis that is a discrete phenomenon, unconnected to the product, then the product or platform ( Twitter, Amazon Facebook -whatever) is then but another variable, for good or bad, in the playing out of film’s scenario.
There was nothing I saw in the Chef credits linking Twitter Inc. to the movie. So it is not possible to ascertain whether or not Chef was sponsored by Twitter Inc. And Twitter Inc. had they been involved as a sponsor of Chef would certainly not have wanted a credit. They would presumably prefer to keep their involvement in the deep background, maintaining the cover would obviously further, both Twitter Inc. and the film production company’s goal of promoting the idea that Chef was a commercially neutral production, an entertainment not a promotional vehicle. Which indeed it may be. But without a disclaimer to the contrary, which I have not seen or heard, doubts will remain for me as to the actual nature of this movie.
As eidetic symbols products such Coke Nike MacDonald’s already have a collective psychic assimilated actuality. But Google Facebook Twitter are not just products they are processes: not just means of connecting and relating to each other, but ways of thinking. In Chef we see the realisation and rationalisation of the particular process of internalising a message service as a state of mind.
Twitter brings families together Chef is a typical flabby piece of Hollywood scripting and film production. Favreau brings nothing to film. He locks onto the shot reaction shot format without originality or flair. He uses a Hispanic funk soul soundtrack to alleviate the tedium of a film that is without tension and whose whole plot line revolves about delivering the Twitter Inc. message. Chef’s narrative line links the consequences of a Tweeted bitching exchange, between chef and his critic, to a classic textbook demonstration of how to use Twitter for promotional purposes. The gimmick is the old Hollywood tried and trusted cute scripting stand-by of the child leading the man towards enlightenment. Twitter brings families together. In this case 10 year old Percy introduces and teaches his 40 something dad all about Twitter.
Two other features of Chef caught my attention. For all that Chef starts out being about high end cooking, sort of nouvelle cuisine, the food ends up as the film ends up: Junk Americana. The sort of food cooked up and successfully sold and tweeted by the eponymous great Chef ends up being the old American standby of: greasy meat under greasy cheese with tasty sauce on top, stuck between two pieces of toasted white bread. This at least does the movie justice.
The values system expressed and endorsed in Chef seemed like an updating or slight recalibrating of the underlying values of the Rocky series of films which Stallone, like Favreau, wrote acted and mainly directed. In its visual look crude filming and cardboard characters, Chef also reminded me of these Stallone movies.
One thing present in Chef that I certainly don’t remember from Rocky, is its sexualisation of its ten year old child character, Percy. Perhaps I am prude but I found it distasteful that when Percy with his dad and sous chef are driving across USA, the sous chef tells the child that his balls are hot! The solution is smear them with corn syrup (or something) The sous chef, who is driving the truck, sticks his hand into a pot of the stuff and then rams it down his pants, Percy’s dad does the same and recommends it to his son. Later in the trip as Chef drives he sings along to both verses of Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing (performed by Hot 8 Brass) whilst the viewer has to watch the inane grin on Percy’s face as he listens to his dad. I think the point is that these sexualised events in Chef are gratuitous. There is nothing in the plot or situation that calls them in. They seem motivated by Favreau’s insecurity in his material, that even with a 10 year old boy, a proper Dad, a Rocky Dad, should be confident enough to flaunt his sexuality, even at the expense of the sexualisation of his ten year old son.
So is Chef the start of a new trend. Is it viral? We we next be tripping down to the Multiplex to see: ‘Don’t Like’. An everyday story of a Facebook group who use their pages to raise awareness and organise a raid into deepest Mali to bring orphans back to the USA? We shall see. Adrin Neatrour firstname.lastname@example.org