Both films feature a gifted male artist who seems past his prime and is struggling through a mid-life professional crisis. Chef rejoices in the art of authentic food and creative cooking. Begin Again celebrates the joy and abandon that flows from making inventive music that matters. Chef and protagonist Carl (Jon Favreau) and musician and agent Dan (Mark Ruffalo) are dually conflicted about their divorces which clearly did not need to happen. Both protagonists have grown estranged from their children. But both reconnect through exposing their children to their professional passion; this shared experience sparks newfound artistic inspiration. Both tales make bold statements about refusing gratuitous formulas for success and instead creating art that flows from the soul.
Chef director Jon Favreau convincingly directs himself as Carl Casper, the head chef at a popular Los Angeles dining establishment who is pressured by the owner (Dustin Hoffman) to cook the same old meals that the diners have come to expect rather than to reach for something more creative and interesting. Carl wants to feed his customers something different and simultaneously feed his innate desire to grow and evolve. The owner wants consistent clientele and happy regulars. Toss in an esoteric, combative food critic, sprinkle with a hilarious battle on twitter, and then blend together with an engaging cross country tour via food truck. This inspiring recipe for personal growth and professional fulfillment can be therapeutic viewing for those who feel overwhelmed by the internet's impact on their lives and those who crave professional meaning.
Begin Again traces the lyrical tale of what happens when down-and-out Dan quits his job at the music agency he co-founded and then later that evening, in a drunken stupor, hears the lovely Greta (Keira Knightly) singing in a local bar. Greta's music sparks Dan's long-lost inspiration. His silent but animated reaction to her song is transformational and aesthetically glorious. Greta and Dan proceed to collaborate to create outsider music that they believe in, rather than music that is packaged to sell. Finding meaningful work turns out to be incredibly therapeutic. Along the way, Dan reconnects with his daughter, Violet (Hailee Steinfeld), and mends other broken fences to reclaim his professional ground and his personal connections.
Both tales involve a light-hearted but pivotal flirtation with a well intended colleague (Scarlett Johansson plays Molly, the hostess at Carl's restaurant in a role quite similar to Keira Knightley's Greta, the a singer on Dan's comeback album). Both plots feature Twitter as a vehicle demonstrating that the younger generation can teach the older generation a thing or two about thinking outside of the box. Most importantly, both films celebrate the importance of pursuing a passion and finding personal agency and meaningful work.
These similarly creative takes are both moving testament to the transformational value of finding opportunities for growth in the face of loss. They also demonstrate that feeling passionate about your work is a wonderful outlet, especially in the face of adversity. Perhaps the most appealing element of these inspiring films is that the deliciously uncommon culinary creations and the lyrical, heartfelt tunes defy today's cookie-cutter, market-driven ethos. In a society that emphasizes internet sensations, the joys of meaningful work often take a backseat to the celebration of viral videos and social media phenomenons. Chef and Begin Again tell dual tract tales that explore what it means to make a deliberate choice to pursue a passion for the sake of the work itself, rather than for the praise or attention of others.