Tuesday, March 10, 2015

"Chef" and "St. Vincent" Serving Up Saintly Fare

So many films, so little time. While I was compiling my list of the most inspiring films of 2014, I discovered that I had neglected to review any comedies. (Really, can you blame me with redundant studio offerings such as, “Dumb and Dumber to” and “Horrible Bosses 2?”) Where were the all the humorous independent films? Skimming through the movies of 2014, I uncovered two charming indie comedies that were barely blips on my radar: Jon Favreau’s, “Chef,” and Theodore Melfi’s, “St. Vincent."

I had mixed feelings about seeing, “St. Vincent,” because the movie poster made it seem sorta cheesy and cheap. Perhaps the marketing team thought pictures of the stars would sell it. Perhaps they didn't want to give too much away. To tell the truth, I have been struggling with the same problem. How do you promote a simple story without giving away all the comic surprises? The trailer shows Bill Murray as a hedonistic, anti-social grouch who his tired, stressed-out neighbor (Melissa McCarthy) hires to babysit her son (Jaeden Lieberher). As we watch Vincent’s inappropriate, selfish behavior we can’t help wondering how he ever earned the title, “St. Vincent.” The movie doesn't make excuses for Vincent’s bad behavior. (Though he has heard, “It is what it is,” in response to his misfortunes one too many times.) But through the boy’s eyes we discover the good in him as well. (It's not hard to like one of Bill Murray's richest performances. I think he should have been nominated for an Oscar for this one.)  Somehow this old curmudgeon brings out the good (however begrudging) in others. Perhaps his calling as a saint is to bring out the humanity in others.

I had a similar problem with, “Chef” - how to serve what is fresh about the chef’s creation without making it seem like serving leftovers? How about a small sample to whet your appetite? Somehow in his quest for success, Chef Casper (Jon Favreau) has lost his passion for food and life. The restaurant owner forces him to cook his safe, signature dishes for a famous food critic. When the critic pans the uninspired meal, the chef completely loses it. The confrontation goes viral on YouTube. He sets off to rediscover his passion and creativity by opening a food truck. The leisurely cross-country trip gives him a chance to finally be a father to his son (Emjay Anthony).

It's easy to chuckle at the bumbling antics of these flawed men, but what really chokes you up is how much father (or father figure) and son really need each other.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

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