Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 55 min.
Our content ratings (0-10): Violence 0; Language 3; Sex/Nudity 0.
Our star rating (1-5): 4
Fathers, do not provoke your children, or they may lose heart.
So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.
How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell.
This foodie movie is also an enjoyable father-son tale (we might substitute “neglect” for “provoke” in the above passage from James), as well as one in which social media are important. Jon Favreau plays Carl Casper, a hard working chef at a fancy L.A. restaurant who has settled into an unchanging routine after top food critic Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt) gave him a rave review ten years earlier. He is such a workaholic that his only outlet beyond the restaurant is with Molly (Scarlett Johansson),and she also works there. Amiable divorced, he has found it hard to fit his 11-year-old son, Percy (Emjay Anthony), into his schedule. His ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) is genuinely concerned about his relationship with the boy.
Carl’s world comes crashing down after Ramsey Michel comes to sample Carl’s menu again, Beforehand Carl had planned to concoct a new menu, but his profit-minded boss Riva (Dustin Hoffman) demanded that he stick to the tried-and-true bill of fare that has kept the customers coming back for several years. They argued, but in the end Carl gave in—and of course, the food critic expected that Carl will have moved on to greater things. He tweets his disappointment as well as giving a bad review on his blog. Knowing nothing of Twitter, the upset Carl responds, and soon the exchange is all over the Internet, eventually leading to a shouting match in the restaurant when the critic accepts Carl’s invitation to return. What he does not know is that Carl had been fired just a few hours before when he refused to follow Riva’s order to stay with the old course, so Ramsey tweets out his disappointment. Clued in to Twitter by his son, Carl sees the tweet and reacts with such vehemence that their exchange goes viral. No other restaurant in the city will now employ such a guy who could be the poster boy for the cautionary note about the tongue in the Latter of James.
Two women come to Carl’s rescue: Molly, who advises him to leave the city for a fresh start, and Inez, who has to make a business trip to Miami and suggests that Carl come along as a nanny for Percy. Swallowing his pride in being unable to pay his own way, Carl agrees, and soon the arc of the story is soaring to lyrical heights. Inez had earlier suggested that Carl open a food truck, but he had always brushed off such an idea. Now he agrees to go visit her former husband Marvin (Robert Downey Jr.), who provides an old beat-up taco truck. It is a mess, so the clean-up job to which Carl invites Percy is not a pleasant one. The boy is glad to accept at first just to be with his dad, but the inside of the truck is so foul that the boy rebels after a while, leading Carl this time to unleash his tongue on his own son, sending the boy off in a huff. That night the more mature side of Carl prevails, as he comes and apologizes to the lad. He has learned a lesson in patience, and Percy one in the necessity of hard work and perseverance required for any job worth doing.
In a film filled with grace filled moments, the one in which Martin (John Leguizamo) arrives to join Carl in his new venture is especially moving. Martin had called Carl the day before from L.A. to share the good news that he had just been promoted to sous chef back at the old restaurant. It now is obvious that he had wanted to learn more about his former boss’s situation than to share news about himself. With no promise of being paid, he had impulsively hopped a Miami-bound plane to help Carl with his new venture. It is he who shows Carl and Percy how to make Cubano sandwiches—as well as, at the very beginning, in dealing with Cuban-American workers reluctant at first even to help Carl load the heavy stove aboard the truck. Decorating the truck in bright colors and equipping it with new stove, sandwich grills, and utensils, the three work harmoniously, and soon quickly and efficiently when word gets around about their delicious sandwiches.
Inez, about to return to L.A., agrees that Percy can stay and work in the truck as the adults drive it back to the City of Angels. The renewed bond between her ex-husband and son was just what she had been hoping for. (This is one gracious lady!) And so the story turns into a delightful road trip tale with stopovers in New Orleans (which fulfills Carl’s earlier broken promise to take Percy there) and Austin, Texas. You will love the colorful shots in those two cities, as well as some engaging music—and certainly the cities’ chambers of commerce will! Along the way Percy shows Carl his skills with social media, and just how powerful a tool they can be in arousing the interest of potential customers. At each stop food lovers that have followed Percy’s tweets are waiting to sample their wares. Most touching of all the scenes is the one of reconciliation in Austin in which—well, see for go yourself.
This is both one of the best feel good movies of the year and one in which people of faith will celebrate its many moments of grace and reconciliation, as well as the possibility of renewal of one’s sense of a calling. Oh yes, have I mentioned that this is a food movie in which the close-up photography of the preparation of colorful foods are bound to stir your gastric juices? What a banquet of a film!
There might be a couple of spoilers at the end.
1. What has happened to Carl since his rise to culinary prominence ten years earlier? How do we all need at times to step back from our routine and take a fresh look? Carl does want to do something different when he learns that food critic Ramsey Michel is paying him a revisit, but what prevents him—and note that it is not just “who” but “what”?
2. How do we see that impulsively lashing back at a tormentor is not the best policy?
3. From what we see of her, what kind of a person is ex-wife Inez? What was it that probably led to the divorce?
4. What moments of grace do you see in the film” (With Molly; Inez; Martin; even with the ex-husband of Inez, Marvin, and food critic Michel Ramsey)?
5. How does the film show that food preparation can be a calling? Note that Carl says that through his food, “I get to touch the lives of people with what I do.” This might seem a stretch at the food truck where they must work so fast that they scarcely have time to converse with a customer, but what about at the climax, when his situation has changed?
6. What moments of reconciliation do we see in the film, and how did you feel during them? (With Percy; with Tony, Carl’s former sous chef; with food critic Michel Ramsey?)
7. How did you feel during the last scene of the film? What apparently has happened? How has food brought the family back together again? Might this be a little over the top, like the ending of Mr. Holland’s Opus, yet still very enjoyable?
8. What are the things that you like most about this film genre? How is grace and food often related in such films? (Note the supreme example in Babette’s Feast.)
Note: We’ve included the set of reflection/discussion questions this time to give you an idea of what you will find for virtually all of our reviews in the Visual Parables journal. See the sample issue to see what you get when you subscribe.