“Chef” and Passion

I’m trying to get into my summer groove after juggling too many things at once since the school year ended (a summer course, friends from out of town in and out of Brooklyn, my dear mother) and it’s been more overwhelming than usual. I have a lot I want to write, more that I need to write, and the regular mix of summer reading. And I’ve willingly fallen into World Cup madness. It’s all fun (even the teaching), but it means I’m bouncing from thing to thing and trying to keep track of too many schedules that are not my own. I want and need to get back to a slower flow and my own rituals.

This is why, even though I was in for the evening and about to have dinner, I decided to see “Chef.” I knew next to nothing about it and hadn’t even paid real attention to the trailer. It’s just as well because I might have skipped it other wise. I’m ambivalent about Jon Favreau but find Sofia Vergara grating and can never get past Robert Downey Jr.’s smug-I’m-so-clever personae.

There’s nothing new about the story, and Favreau isn’t all that convincing as a father figure, even an ineffective one, but the movie is pretty perfect anyway. You can see the plot unfolding from the very start, but plot twists are not the goal here. In fact, knowing how it’s all going to unfold is what makes it so pleasurable. In the first place, it’s a gorgeous visual ode to the art and joy of cooking. It’s a movie for foodies but also for anyone who has ever enjoyed the perfect grilled cheese sandwich. It’s a road trip about towns and neighborhoods that could be trite but manages to feel authentic. I also loved seeing a story about men being friends and bonding without making adulthood (or women) the enemy.

The few times I’ve seen Sofía Vergara her performance seems to be all about how sexy and exotic she is. It’s as if no one knows how to show her in any way but over-the-top-how-is-that-even-possible beautiful. But here she is a kind, wise compassionate woman who also happens to be over-the-top-how-is-that-even-possible beautiful. She’s a more mellow version of what we usually see, and she’s even more beautiful because of it. Downey should always play sly assholes. He’s really good at it.

So see the movie for all these reasons. And see it because it’s funny and easy to slip into, and the soundtrack is terrific. But you should also see it to remind yourself of what it means to feel passionate about a thing—passionate beyond all reason, to the point where it keeps you up nights. This isn’t a movie about dilettantes pretending to give a damn but about craft that has to be practiced and perfected in order for those lucky enough to have a thing to feel whole and complete. And it’s about enjoying that craft in the company of friends who understand and celebrate your thing and laugh with and at you when it’s all looking pretty bleak.

I needed that this evening as I get back to doing my thing.

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