Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Conservative Iron Chef

If you want to take a break from super heroes and obnoxious sex comedies this summer, you could see Jon Favreau's Chef. Favreau wrote, directed and stars in this charming film that features a character that faces dilemmas we all face: How to balance work and family? How should we respond when a boss asks us to compromise our integrity? Who is a better companion: Scarlett Johansson or Sofia Vergara?

Carl Casper is the chef of a restaurant that was trendy but has fallen into a bit of rut. But his professional life is in good shape compared to his personal life; divorced and neglectful of his son, he uses his work to avoid any other responsibility.
The story is warm and funny. Favreau seems to have pulled in chits to form quite the all-star cast for a small, independent film; besides Johansson and Vergara, Dustin Hoffman plays Casper's boss, Robert Downey Jr. is very funny and a number of other familiar faces (Oliver Platt, Amy Sedaris, John Leguizamo among other others) brighten the film. But the real costar of the film is Emjay Anthony, a ten year old who plays Casper's son, Percy.

And through Percy, Favreau introduces a remarkably conservative message. Admittedly, a conservative message by Hollywood standards. By such standards, Favreau's Iron Man also had a remarkably conservative message: Islamic terrorists are dangerous and should be dealt with with force. Kind of obvious, I know, Hollywood has set a low bar. And the conservative message in Chef? Dads are important.

As the film begins, Casper is usually late for his appointments with his son and often cuts them short. The visits are centered on amusement; theme parks, pizza and movies. But Percy wants more. He wants to go with his dad to work. Without saying it in words, Percy wants his dad to introduce him to the world of men.

Our society says kids do just as well in single parent homes as two parent homes. And even if it is admitted that two parents are better than one, than it is argued that two moms or two dads are probably better than the traditional family.
Chef presents the importance of a father introducing a son into the world. Circumstances force Casper to care for his son for quantity, not just "quality" time. He teaches his son the importance of hard work and a job well done. Casper presents Percy with a chef's knife with quiet ceremony, emphasizing that it is not a toy, but a tool that must be respected.

He also introduces Percy to the man's world where drink, smoking and swearing have a part, but with responsibility and moderation (a taste for beer, cigars smoked in Percy's presence and if you have ever been in a restaurant kitchen, well...) Some might have problems with this, but there is certainly something to be said for not letting kids discover the temptations of the world alone.

Radical thoughts these, that kids are better off when their parents stay together, that it's a good thing for fathers to pass on their skills, that men and women have different roles in parenting...For a Hollywood film though, not too shabby.
(Chef is rated R for language and sexual references.)

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