By Nisha Susan
Chef is the flat, arc-less movie full of plotless charm you don’t mind watching in a fraught week. It has just enough chef subculture (not foodie subculture) clues for you to feel smart – the stray copy of Lucky Peach, the unselfconscious use of adjectives such as ‘brave’ to described food, outbursts of hatred for those who write about food but don’t make it, the search for purity on the way to search for superstardom, the tattoos, the burn marks on wrists first fetishized by Anthony Bourdain in a piece about San Sebastian while ogling a female chef. It has very pretty food, very pretty landscapes, a very cute child star and a rather sweet, very square Jon Favreau playing the eponymous Chef Carl Casper.
Why then did it leave me so annoyed for a while? Before I get there, let me dispose of the Bechdel thing. There are only three women in the whole, WHOLE movie. One: Casper’s ex-wife Inez (played by Sofia Vergara), goddess-like, competent, funny, wise and maternal. Two: Casper’s on-again, off-again girlfriend and colleague played by a sweet, tattooed, goth Scarlett Johansson who in one montage makes goo-goo eyes at the pasta Casper makes her, finely underlining the montage method of editing, in case you ever missed it. Three: a two-minute appearance by Inez’s ex-husband Marvin’s (Robert Downey Jr) secretary who says she has been impregnated by Marvin. Downey who is there to be the weird ex-husband counterfoil to Chef Casper (and to possibly be kind to his Iron Man director Favreau) confides that he has had a vasectomy so his secretary clearly is lying, but what the hell. Yes, dude, what the hell because the 80s called and they want this bit of the narrative back. None of these three ladies ever meet or talk to each other. They never talk to anyone about anything other than Chef, Chef’s genius, Chef’s son and Chef’s future. So boo ya to Bechdel.
Moving to the true source of irritation. Here’s the thing. After a lifetime of watching male wish-fulfillment cinema, I’d like me some female wish-fulfillment movies. I’d like to see a movie about a middle-aged female genius who is not good-looking, who is considerably overweight and whose weight gets mentioned only once in the movie. I’d like to see a movie about a female genius who is allowed in the manner of Chef Casper to slowly rediscover her obligations, duty and love for her child while only being mildly and sweetly reproved by ex-husband and love interest. I’d like to see a movie about a female genius whose absolutely stunning on-again, off-again love interest says “go get what you need. I will hold the fort.” And whose love interest is never seen again in the movie. I’d like to see a movie about a female genius whose public meltdown on YouTube and Twitter is only discussed in terms of her work and not her appearance/her whorina-ness. I’d like to see a movie about a female genius who breaks up her marriage, neglects her child and is gently reabsorbed back into the fold without rancor. I’d like to see a movie about a female genius whose fantastically good-looking ex-husband goes to his weird first ex-wife to ask for a big favour to make the genius second ex-wife’s path easier. And then encourages the wife and flies her across the country to find herself again without ANY expectations. Actually, I’d like to see a movie about a female genius whose ex-husband always answers the phone and is always at home looking marvelous whenever she needs a pick-up. (Sofia Vergara, run away, run away. Wasn’t it bad enough that they made you do that crap in the other movie Fading Gigolo? Which was supposedly about gigolos fulfilling women’s desires but mysteriously became about middle-aged men’s wish fulfillment again. Tacky, tacky movie.)
But I am not irritated anymore. At some point, it hit me. OMG, this is not Chef. This is Iron Man: the Chef Edition. The superstar, the decline into decadent mediocrity, the delusions, the public meltdown, the return to the top with the help of minor underlings and a few ladies who have always been supportive of the hero’s bad behaviour because of his genius. It all makes sense now. I won’t be making any demands any more.