Today’s distinctive openers are Jon Favreau‘s Chef, Nicholas Stoller‘s Neighbors and Gia Coppola‘s Palo Alto. Favreau’s film is a feel-good concoction, but it’s far and away the most engaging of the three — the liveliest, best-written and most personable. On top of which the food is constantly sensual if not erotic. Yes, the under-subject (leaving aside the road-to-redemption arc of Favreau’s lead character) is social-media humiliation and promotion — an aspect that works as far as it goes (even if it the ease and speed of the film’s up-and-down cyber scenarios seem a little too facile). But it never delivers an uncomfortable moment. In a left-field sort of way Chef reminded me of Fred Zinneman‘s The Sundowners (’60) in that it charmingly ambles along without a lot of difficulty — nothing all that traumatic or devastating happens to anyone, and after a while you start to enjoy this sense of comfort.

Chef: “A celebration of perfect, scrumptious art-food (the cooking and serving shots are to-die-for), of clever guy humor and pothole-free narrative charm, of Jon Favreau’s acting and writing skills (as well John Leguizamo and Robert Downey, Jr.‘s)…okay, it’s fluff but it’s very tangy and alive and well-constructed fluff. It never once reached in and got me in that deep-down place, but I never felt the least bit irked or antagonistic toward it. It’s a nice easy cruise, and there’s no substantial reason to put it down with any passion. In fact, Chef is so well crafted and engaging and satisfying that I forgot about the weight issue that I’ve mentioned once or twice.” — from my 5.5.14 review.

Neighbors: “Anyone who’s read HE for any length of time knows I genuinely admire comedies that I call no-laugh funny — i.e., consistently clever, amusing and witty but never quite eliciting actual laughter. Nicholas Stoller‘s Neighbors (Universal, 5.9.14) is not that — it’s heh-heh funny. I was never that giddy or tickled but I never felt bored or irritated or disengaged. I got ten or twelve heh-hehs out of it, and the rest is at least fast, punchy and lewd. It’s not exactly a routine culture clash comedy but the basic set-up — a 30ish couple with a baby (Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne) vs. a party-animal college fraternity (Zac Efron, Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse) that moves in next door — is familiar. But Neighbors is agreeably tight and vigorous and scattershot, and Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien‘s script (augmented, I’m sure, by nonstop improv) is a cut or two above.” — Cinemacon review filed from Las Vegas on 3.26.14.

Palo Alto: “My attitude is that talented filmmakers deserve respect and allegiance, even if their paths have been paved by family connections. And it has to be acknowledged that The Latest Coppola has delivered a pretty good film here. Or at least one that I felt more or less okay with when it ended. Based on producer and costar James Franco’s same-titled short story collection, it’s basically about a demimonde of Northern California teens revelling in vacant nihilism and coping with the tug of nascent adulthood. In that sense it sometimes feels boring as shit because most teenagers — hello? — are boring as shit to hang with. I knew that when I was 17 even and I really know that now. Teenage males, in particular. All but worthless, not into anything, hormonal dogs, booze-swilling, to some extent self-destructive…go away and come back when you’re 29 or 30.” — from my 8.30.13 Telluride review.