Philadelphia Film Festival: CHEF FLYNN A Less Than Filling Documentary

At ten years old, Flynn McGarry grew tired of the simple meals and frequent take out food that his working single divorcee mother Meg would present. So he did what any precocious pre-teen would do, and taught himself to cook. But since he started off with the expert level recipes in The French Laundry Cookbook, Flynn developed such culinary skills that he was able to open a monthly pop-up restaurant with a haute cuisine tasting menu in the family home when he was 12. Needless to say, the combination of his skill and his age made Flynn something of a celebrity in the foodie world.

Director Cameron Yates’s Chef Flynn follows the young culinary prodigy as he moves from the small pop-up he would run with friends from school through studying in some of the most famous kitchens in the country to him moving to New York City for the next step in his budding career. On the surface, Flynn’s story certainly sounds interesting, but at times there really isn’t much more to it that justifies even this film’s somewhat short run time of 83 minutes. There are no stunning reveals or twists to the story that come out of left field. Flynn is presented by Yates as a level-headed teen, and even when a particular evening at as pop-up goes awry, he still calmly keeps his head while describing it as a “shitshow.” It is quite a switch from the emotional outbursts we see from celebrity chefs on such reality TV shows like Hell’s Kitchen. Flynn has a likeability about him and it is with a measure of relief that we see him never falling into the traps that ensnare many others his age who achieve a certain level of fame.

But what is of at least equal interest is Flynn’s mother Meg and how she is coping with her son’s growing celebrity. She had placed her own goals as a filmmaker on hold while she had a family, and now, at a point where she could be resuming her own career, she finds herself managing Flynn’s. For the most part she puts on a smiling face as she works for her son, but in a rare moment of honesty she confesses her unhappiness at being the one who attends to and feeling out of her depth running the business side of their home-run pop restaurant business.

I usually try to avoid talking about the endings of films unless it is absolutely necessary, and here it is. Chef Flynn doesn’t actually end so much, as it just sort of… Stops. We’ve followed Flynn to New York City where he is working for a high end Manhattan restaurant while trying to find a place to open his own restaurant. His mom is back at home trying to deal with having become an empty-nester. But neither storylines seem to resolve. We are told repeatedly that Flynn’s goal is to open a restaurant in Manhattan, and the movie gets so close to that that when the end credits begin abruptly rolling, it is momentarily disorientating. Does Flynn open up his own eatery? Does his mom learn how to live her life for herself and not for Flynn? Interesting questions, and essential ones that the film has been leading us to the whole time. A quick google search answers those questions about Flynn’s ambitions, but it shouldn’t be that way. Frustratingly, as the film ends, the preceding 80 minutes feel like a prologue to a story that the filmmakers decided not to tell, an aperitif to a main course that is never served.

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About Rich Drees 6999 Articles
A film fan since he first saw that Rebel Blockade Runner fleeing the massive Imperial Star Destroyer at the tender age of 8 and a veteran freelance journalist with twenty years experience writing about film and pop culture. He is a member of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle.
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