Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Le Chef

If you've been following along with the reviews, you may have noticed that one of my pastimes is observing the discrepancies between critic and audience reactions, courtesy of the Rotten Tomatoes website. A severe audience/critic split where the audience approves and the critics do not usually indicates Christian or patriotic themes, or possibly a Transformers movie.

We don't always side with the audience over the critics. One of the effects of going to see a ton of movies is acquiring a taste for some of the more esoteric aspects of the art. We don't have anything much invested in any particular film, so we might appreciate something that might actually piss us off if it were our one chance to see a movie for a few months. (And I always try to note the difference here between "interesting" and "good".)

Sometimes, though, we just come out of films thinking What the hell is wrong with people?

Which brings us to Le Chef. We'd seen the trailers with interest: It looked like a silly French farce based around cooking. Fun, not serious—not even as serious as the relatively light-hearted Chef.

Then it comes out and the RT score is brutal 47% critics, 59% audiences. Well, hell. Who wants to go see something like that. But on a recommendation from a friend, and given a lack of other appealing options, we decided to roll the dice. And you know what?

Le Chef is a silly French farce, based around cooking. Fun, not serious and just exactly what it said on the tin.

The plot is sort of Ratatouille meets Chef, with once great chef Alexandre LaGarde (Jean Reno) having lost his mojo, and waking up in a world where he's in danger of losing one of his stars, doesn't understand molecular cuisine, has a terrible relationship with his All-But-Dissertation daughter, and sleeps alone, so consumed is he with running his restaurant and doing his TV show.

Meanwhile Jacky (Michaël Youn) is bursting with energy, opinion and talent, and a devotee of LaGarde who can't hold a job down because he's so opinionated about food. But pregnant wife Beatrice (Raphaëlle Agogué) insists he do something to prepare for their coming child, so he ends up painting and cleaning windows at an old folks home.

Jacky being Jacky, he finds himself correcting the kitchen in the home, and soon becomes popular there, but it doesn't last. LaGarde loses all his support staff as his weaselly boss prepares to fire him (from his own restaurant named LaGarde, even) and wants him to okay icky chemicals in his name-brand frozen foods. When LaGarde comes to taste Jacky's cooking while visiting the home, and recognizes the recipe as his own (from 1997!), he lures Jacky to his place (at no pay, of course).

It's frothy light, barely ever in danger of crashing into serious feelings, and it's (of course) rather predictable, because there are only a few ways to end a story like this and keep it the lighthearted comedy it always intended to be.

So why be hatin'? I'm actually not sure. Critics attacked the American Chef for being well-worn and predictable as well, but I would bet money we won't see another quality family-friendly comedy/drama like it for the rest of the year. Similarly, critics attack this Le Chef for being predictable and its obvious farce, but it's funny and I can't recall the last French farce I saw like it.

Girl on a Bicycle maybe. It was fun and (intriguingly) hated even more by critics than this—though also dramatically better liked by audiences. In The House was very dark. Populaire was fun and frothy at first, but turned heavier and more sexual as it went on. So, I guess if you went back to Paris-Manhattan, that would be about right.

Maybe if all these films were frothy confections it would be tiring, but like Chef, I bet we see exactly zero French films for the rest of the year that have no greater ambition than to make you laugh and tell a pleasant enough story so you don't feel scummy for laughing.

Some of the humor is broad in the extreme. At one point, Jacky and LaGarde go under cover as a Japanese husband and wife to check out molecular cuisine at their competitor's place. And the Spanish molecular cuisine specialist is a goof.

But I'm really working hard to try to understand the animosity. Maybe French film fans are just too snobby to laugh at silly stuff. If so, that's a shame: The audience that would like this most—general film audiences, not "French film fans"—will never go see it.

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