A French farce best viewed on a full stomach, the cinematic equivalent of a dessert: sweet and enjoyable, but not nutritious enough for a meal.
Hollywood rom-coms tend to bear the most criticism for their repetitive use of the same motifs and actors, but French comedy has been guilty of some terrible cinematic crimes over the decades as well. Daniel Cohen’s Le Chef sits somewhere in the middle, just as influenced by US comedy as it is from a history of French farce. Holding its cinema sacred, France might never admit to this growing influence from their Anglo neighbours. Cohen has the notion to target one of France’s other sacred cows in his latest film, the temple of food and wine.
Former cinematic hitman Jean Reno is possibly the person least likely to be the target of farce, and it is perhaps his presence that serves as a reassuring influence from the outset. Jacky Bonnot (Michael Youn) is a talented and self-taught aficionado of haute cuisine, but his devotion to the art continually gets him fired from restaurant jobs. Star chef Alexandre Lagarde (Reno) is in danger of losing his famed restaurant, thanks to a conflict with the owner and the perception that his creations are old hat. By pure chance, the pair discover each other, and find out that they both have something to learn from the experience.
There is never a notion that Le Chef will be anything less than a filling meal, ticking all the right boxes for a predictable albeit satisfying outing. It may not have the right stuff to make it a Michelin star film, but it certainly aims to be something a little bit more than fast food. The narrative structure isn’t ambitious, but with the current fascination with cooking shows – encompassing everything from Masterchef t0 Food Network’s Cupcake Wars – the timing of Cohen’s comedy couldn’t be better. It’s a well-constructed dish, and most of the flavour comes from its two chief ingredients: Reno and Youn.
A classic odd-couple double-act, Cohen’s script gives modern cooking a thorough roasting. The jokes may be obvious, essentially structured around a comedy of deception, but the gravity with which modern recipes are treated was overdue this treatment. The duo’s failed attempts to incorporate molecular cooking into their routine result in some classic slapstick, but not before pointing out how ridiculous the act of freezing and cubing cuisine is. Le Chef may not contain something from every food group, but there’s enough there to make up the pyramid of fun.
Le Chef is released in Australia on 14 June 2012 from Icon.