I was on the road for much of this past weekend and tuned into satellite radio along the way. One of the things I heard was an interesting and thoughtful interview with ‘multi hyphenate’ Jon Favreau, the director, writer, producer and actor who started out his career in Hollywood with the cult favorite ‘Swingers’, and has moved up the ladder to the point of directing the first two ‘Iron Man’ films; and now being in pre-production for the live action re-make of Disney’s classic ‘Jungle Book’. Sounds like a pretty good run, huh?
Yet what struck me most, and got me to thinking, is that for Favreau – like many of his fellow filmmakers and actors – the run has not been quite so smooth, and the rise up the ladder looks more like a Wall Street stock chart. There are plenty of ups and downs along the way. But the ones who seem to take a dip in their personal stock chart and then turn that around to another run-up, always seem to find a project that takes them back to their roots. For Favreau, that project is the much anticipated, but small film ‘Chef’, which will open across the country in the next couple of weeks.
‘Chef’ is the story of a celebrity chef whose social media feud with a nasty food-critic causes him to completely melt down and lose his job. With the help of family, friends, poverty and a return to the source – in this case ethnic street food – the chef finds his way back. Favreau wrote, produced, directed and stars in the film; and enlists a number of friends to join him in the process – Sofia Vergara, Scarlett Johannsen, Robert Downey, Oliver Platt and Dustin Hoffman just for example. And while this is not a review – the film has not been released yet – from the interviews, trailers and other things I have seen and read the film has the potential to be a gem.
So what is the point? In listening to Favreau talk about the film and his life, I see a very clear linkage between the art and the life. Favreau was on the top of the world with his extraordinarily successful ‘Iron Man’ films – one of Hollywood’s ‘it’ directors. Additionally, he was a writer and actor who would appear in numerous films from cameo to second-lead. But all of a sudden it went away. When ‘Iron Man 3’ came around, the studio decided that it needed a ‘new direction’ (no pun intended); and while he received consolation prize ‘Executive Producer’ credits for that film and for ‘The Avengers’, all of a sudden he was doing TV shows and pop-ups in the films of buddies. There was clearly a dip in his stock price, and the signs for the future were not necessarily pointing up.
But then he stepped back, took stock, and got to work on ‘Chef’. The first draft took only a month to write. The film itself was shot in a month, and the friends took much less than standard rates to appear in the movie. And it appears as though the results will be another ‘Swingers’, but with a completely different tone. A small, but heartfelt film in which Jon Favreau demonstrates just how good he can be at all of the things required to be successful in Hollywood. And in the process of ‘going back’, along comes the offer of the keys to the Disney kingdom, as he was put in charge of re-booting another great Disney classic, ‘The Jungle Book’.
Will life imitate art in this case, or is art imitating life? Who cares – it is the beauty of film that the best ‘hyphenates’ have the opportunity to combine both – as do we all in our own little way. If Jon Favreau were a stock, I think I would be buying.