I’m going to lay it all out here. I am having a terrible fucking week. I quit smoking 10 miserable days ago and the world is a bleak and miserable place. I quit for most of the same reasons that I started smoking. I started smoking because I wanted to die young. I quit smoking because I want to live for a long time.
Nicotine withdrawal is the most miserable thing I have ever experienced in my young life. For the last ten days I have wanted to eat everything in my fridge (fully stocked because of an upcoming storm. There’s two weeks of food in there and I want to eat it all right now). I have picked fights with my partner because neither of us can agree who is more miserable (he is also quitting). I have come to the conclusion that the world is a dark place and the point of living is lost to me.
One of the many things that has grated on my soul this week is that we are currently trying to get through the beginning of Star Trek: The Next Generation. We started watching Star Trek: Voyager around Thanksgiving because I watched a couple episodes with my mom as a kid and threw it on for nostalgia, but then we got super into it. We were advised to watch TNG next, but told that it would be a struggle through the first two seasons as the show found its footing.
In addition to being miserable because I’m a drug addict, hankering for a hit of my beloved nicotine, I’m also miserable because Voyager made me so happy, and the first two seasons of TNG pale in comparison.
To occupy my hands and my mind these last few days, I’ve been cooking elaborate dinners. Tonight I made a honey mustard glazed chicken and fried green beans with a Greek yogurt dipping sauce. As I set these down on the table and we opened Netflix to begin another night of dredging through TNG exposition, there’s an ad that opens first: Watch Chef.
I still remember the first time I ever saw Chef. My sister and I used to love going to the movies, we had figured out that if you bought your tickets on Fandango, the last matinee of the day was only $5. Some people waited until a movie they wanted to see came out to go to the theater, my sister and I would pick movies just for the experience of going to the theater.
She was the one who wanted to see Chef. I thought it sounded stupid. She had to talk me into it, eventually playing on my guilt that I had moved away to California and we didn’t see each other as much as we had before. Going to the movies was our thing, she missed me, couldn’t I just suck it up and watch this movie that I thought didn’t sound that great?
I was wrong. I felt no shame in admitting it; I was stupid to think Chef would be stupid. I had such a good time watching the movie that I had no trouble telling my sister “thank you for pushing this. I never would have done it without you and I needed that movie today.”
Today, when I saw Chef come up on Netflix, I felt the same way – “I need this today.” The weather is miserable, I want a cigarette, and the world feels like the most miserable place to exist. Until I pushed play on Chef.
Chef is a representation of the world that meets on the corner of adorable and realistic. It is cute enough to make you happy, and realistic enough that it *could* be true. The movie opens up on Jon Favreau as Carl Casper, a Chef with the balls of his artistic integrity held in the vice-like grip of capitalism. “Make what sells” says the owner (Dustin Hoffman), who couldn’t care less about the creative soul behind what feeds us.
This struggle presents the ever-present fear that a creative mind carries. We want our creativity to bring us success, however we cannot allow success to dictate our creativity or else we have effectively sold out. I cannot count the number of times that I have tried to jump on a trend, thinking “If I make an account about this” or “If I write about that” then I will become successful. (Solution: write a blog ranting about old movies that no one ever reads. If you’re reading this, stop. I need to maintain my artistic dignity)
Let’s all take a moment and appreciate the ever present subtlety of the comedy that Jon Favreau brings to anything that he does. Whether it’s a guest spot in Friends, a B character in Iron Man, or the main attraction of Chef, he carries your attention in a way that is unparalleled by anyone. He deserves much more attention than he receives – let’s all push and keep him as a household name and refuse to let future generations refer to him as “that guy from Iron Man”.
Casper gets into a twitter argument with a food reviewer, and after an incredibly lengthy exposition, we see him chuck all that he knows to be true into the bin and start anew. He goes to Miami with his ex wife, meets with her ex husband (Robert Downey Jr., reminding us all that behind that pretty face is a comedy genius), and buys a food truck. He cleans it up, an old ally from his past life comes back to assist, and his son could not be more thrilled to join them on their cooking adventure.
It starts small – Chef Casper eats a cuban sandwich. He and the team need help moving some equipment on to the truck so they ask some men nearby to help them move the heavy stuff and in exchange they’ll cook a nice dinner. Chef Casper is back to his roots, he’s making good food just because it’s fun. Here we run into a theme that many of you may recognize from the most recent Pixar movie, “Soul” (though Chef delivers it much more subtly) – Do not waste the life you have chasing after the life you think that you should want. Casper clearly expresses that he belongs in a kitchen, he and everyone he knows scoffs at the idea of a food truck. But when it comes down to it – it’s just good ole fashioned fun to have a food truck, work for yourself, and cook whatever you want for whoever you want.
In this way, Chef once again presents us with the dream reality. Chef Casper and his assistant, Martin (John Leguitzamo), take off west and are just enjoying a road trip, sampling food and cooking food for others, while Casper’s son, Percy (Emjay Anthony) is casually posting on social media where they are and people love following their story and eating their food.
It’s the genuine nature of this story that gets me every time. Just the other night, I was talking to my partner about an Instagram profile that I enjoy following and how I was conflicted about the fights that they were starting with another profile I enjoyed. He reminded me that everyone who makes money off social media does so by marketing a certain personality, which often has little or nothing to do with their true personality.
This reminder, while helpful with the dilema I was facing the other day, is also what has caused me to lose all hope in everything. I used to believe that if you were funny enough, or a good enough singer, writer, or if your cat was entertaining enough – you would find fame in your time. Wasn’t it Andy Warhol who said “everyone will be famous for 15 minutes”? I have never wanted much, but I have always felt entitled to my 15 minutes. As I approach my mid-30s I just have to wonder…will it ever come?
So watching the dream, the epitome of what any creative in this new world can ever hope to achieve – organic fame by being their true selves – is incredibly satisfying. How many of us post a selfie from a certain angle because we want the affirmation of knowing that at least twenty people, only three of whom we talk to on a regular basis, think we look good? Do we not all imagine a world in which we can be whoever the fuck we want to be, and the world at large will validate us without us having to do the work of going out to greet that world? I know that I personally spend too much time writing lengthy prose that has very little to do with the media itself, and hope that people will understand where I’m coming from and I will feel just a little bit less alone than before.
Though I am determined to be cynical as I bite my fingernail and anxiously hope for death to come and release me from these ever-present cravings, I can’t help but find comfort in Chef and its familiarity. As I contemplate the deeper meanings and ramble about them on the internet I find gratitude for being in this incredibly painful and uncomfortable moment. While my life is full of bumps and bruises, I am determined not to waste the life I have wishing for the one I think I should want.