SXSW Film Review: Chef Flynn

A slice of life in the kitchen of a culinary enfant terrible

What's the old line about success being 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration? That's a take on achievement that ignores pure, blind, situational luck. In most households, teenager Flynn McGarry would just be some kid. But because he was born into an upper-middle class household, he had the opportunity to become a budding world-class chef.

Chef Flynn is part home movie montage, part contemporary interviews with McGarry and his friends and family by Cameron Yates (of SXSW 2010 title The Canal Street Madam). There is no doubting he is an extraordinary chef – and that's a full chef, not just a cook, as he starts running prestigious pop-up restaurants in New York – and that his maturity would verge into arrogance if he wasn't so low-key self-critical.

Yates' story is of a rich kid who played restaurant with real ingredients, and turned out to be really, really good at this cooking thing. It's a little hard to fully absorb with total sympathy the idea that his life is a complete hardship (compare, after all, his plight to that of the subjects of Oscar-nominated short documentary "Knife Skills", for whom a job in a Cordon Bleu restaurant is the first real break they had in their whole lives).

But the fly in his ointment is his momager Meg McGarry. In a sign of their inverted and often worrying relationship, the boy wonder refers to her as Meg, and it's clear that, not only has he been the adult in the relationship, but her stage parent instincts ran the very real risk of turning him into a monster. There are moments in this documentary that are played as cute anecdotes that instead should be frantically flapping red flags (note: most tweens don't keep unfinished meals in their bedroom). Yates seems unwilling to slice that particular part of the story, instead pushing it to one side like a piece of narrative gristle that he would rather ignore.

Yet, even with omission, there's something intriguing about how this floppy-haired kid with a santoku didn't become the Marjoe of the kitchen. Many children have become the crutch to a parent. He was lucky enough to have the skills and circumstance to thrive and excel. Plus, as one food critic noted, he steams a mean scallop.

Chef Flynn

Festival Favorites
Friday, March 16, 11:30am, Alamo Lamar

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