If you go into Chef Flynn hoping for a documentary about life in the culinary profession, you might be a bit disappointed. And yet director Cameron Yates comes out with a fine film about a contentious relationship between a mother and her son, who has become a star in the culinary world despite his young age. The relationship between Megan McGarry and Flynn McGarry is at the heart of Chef Flynn, making heavy use of home movies that shows the universal yet unique dynamic between a parent who wants the best for her son, but also a son who is quickly rising through the ranks of the culinary world. Although it would have been nice to have a few outside experts discussing Flynn’s work, Chef Flynn stands as a remarkably intimate look at trying to raise a young superstar.
Flynn McGarry has been cooking since he was ten, but instead of making simple dishes, he’s whipping up creative culinary pieces. His mother, filmmaker Megan, always has a camera on her son and witnesses how his passion evolves from playtime with friends to a serious ambition where by 15 he’s already dropped out of school so he can pursue cooking full-time so he can achieve his dream of running a restaurant in New York City. However, as Flynn becomes older and more successful, his relationship with his mother starts to fray.
Flynn is an interesting figure, and while he says he’s not comfortable with being called a “prodigy”, it is rare to see someone so successful at his age, and I wish Yates had gone a bit farther in giving us an objective evaluation of Flynn’s talents and ability. There are plenty of professional chefs out there who probably have opinions about Flynn and about the current state of high cuisine, so it would be nice to establish a baseline about his career and place in the culinary world in order for the audience to understand what makes a good chef.
Instead, Yates makes heavy use of Megan’s footage, which is fine, but at times it feels like a collection of home movies from a proud parent rather than something that helps us understand why Flynn is unique. These home movies show us the closeness and friction between Megan and Flynn, but they’re so rough around the edges that it eventually becomes a bit tiresome to see yet another dinner party at their home. We want to break out and see Flynn’s career because that’s the difference between him and another child who has a doting parent.
The movie finds its footing when Flynn is finally in New York City and the friction between him and Megan reaches new heights. Instead of a mother’s loving gaze of her precocious child, we’re getting a documentary filmmaker showing the difficulties of running a kitchen. Flynn is no longer a sweet child listing off fancy menu items; he’s yelling at his staff saying, “I wish I had a thousand fucking hands right now,” and calling his mother by her first name.
In its best moments, Chef Flynn is like a real-life Ratatouille, showing an unlikely chef excelling at his profession due to his passion and creativity. But the heart of the movie is a parent who wants the best for her child even if she’s not exactly sure how to help him reach the top of the culinary world. It would be nice if the movie delved a bit more into what makes a good chef and what the future might hold for Flynn (the movie ends a bit abruptly), but as a story between a mother and her successful son, Chef Flynn serves up something heartwarming and relatable.