'Le Chef': Film Review
An old-school chef attempts to modernize his cooking style to save his restaurant in this culinary-themed French comedy.
If you can see only one film about food preparation this summer, make it Jon Favreau’s Chef, not Daniel Cohen’s Le Chef.
Trafficking in the sort of comic material by now familiar thanks to a recent surfeit of gastronomy-themed features, this French comedy, which received largely negative reviews and did poor business upon its 2012 debut in its native country, stars Jean Reno and Michael Youn as an old-school chef and the budding young culinary genius he enlists to help him save his prestigious restaurant.
The veteran Reno plays Alexandre Lagarde, a celebrity chef and host of a TV cooking show who has found his reputation dwindling due to his old-fashioned culinary style. His three-star flagship restaurant has been taken over by a greedy new owner (Julien Boisselier) intent on cutting costs and modernizing the cuisine. With the knowledge of a loophole in Alexandre’s contract that he can be fired if the restaurant loses a star, he sets about sabotaging the kitchen.
Meanwhile the hapless Jacky (Youn), a fervent disciple of Alexandre's who knows the details of his every recipe, finds his own culinary career floundering despite his self-proclaimed label as “the Mozart of the range.” Fired by a series of restaurants for his domineering manner and insistence on new techniques, he’s reduced to working as a window cleaner at an old-age home in order to placate his long-suffering, very pregnant girlfriend (Raphaelle Agogue). Even there he can’t resist butting into the kitchen, outraging the elderly residents with his newfangled cuisine.
Although not without their conflicts — “You’re in a sauce rut,” Jacky informs the horrified Alexandre at one point — the pair soon overcome their difficulties and attempt to modernize the older chef’s old-school recipes. Along the way, there’s much fun poked at the excesses of molecular cuisine, ranging from the amusing (a Spanish expert attempts to introduce their kitchen to his modern, nitrogen-based scientific techniques, with disastrous results) to the egregious (Alexandre and Jacky dress up like a Japanese couple, with the latter in geisha drag, to pose as diners at a rival’s “molecular” restaurant).
The odd-couple pairing of the two leads produces some fun moments, most of them provided by Reno’s patented slow-burn comic reactions. Unfortunately, Youn’s Jacky is far more irritating than endearing, with the result that his character’s career plight elicits little sympathy. With its cliched characters and situations, formulaic subplots (Alexandre neglects his grad student daughter to concentrate on his career) and overly cutesy comic tone, Le Chef is a cinematic dish best sent back to the kitchen.
Production company: Gaumont
Cast: Jean Reno, Michael Youn, Raphaelle Agogue, Julien Boisselier, Salome Stevenin, Serge Lariviere, Issa Doumbia, Bun-hay Mean
Director: Daniel Cohen
Screenwriters: Daniel Cohen, Olivier Dazat
Producer: Sidonie Dumas
Director of photography: Robert Fraisse
Production designer: Hugues Tissandier
Costume designer: Emmanuelle Youchnovksi
Editor: Geraldine Retif
Composer: Nicola Piovani