A Star Is Burnt: The Chef Movie Bradley Cooper Probably Hopes You Didn't See

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Bradley Cooper sits on a bus in a terrible tight leather jacket, bootcut frayed jeans and aviator shades. It’s an outfit of tough-guy cool circa 1998, though we appear to be somewhere around 2014.
“Jean-Luc, my mentor,” Bradley drawls, “the guy who gave me a chance as a chef, said to me it was God who created oysters and apples. And you can’t improve recipes like that. But it is our job to try.”
A bluesy riff kicks in, Bradley gets off the bus – he is in New Orleans. We learn in voiceover that he was a once-great chef whose demons – wild temper, booze, drugs, women, le gueuleton! – chased him out of Paris. Then, it seems, he fled to America’s most debauched city to get clean.
There he has set himself the penance of shucking a million oysters at a low-key looking restaurant. I’m not sure shucking a million oysters is an internationally recognised act of penance but we are where we are. Bradley keeps a tally in his notebook – counting off the oysters like a prisoner marking time on a cell wall. “One million,” he declares aloud with triumph and eats the final one himself: then he walks out of the restaurant, saying nothing to no-one. He’s still a bad-boy chef – from nose to tail.
This is Burnt.
The film is a BC vehicle that passed through cinemas with barely a flambé of attention and lukewarm-to-outright bad reviews in 2015 (though it made a modest profit at the box office). In the last few years, however, a bunch of Burntheads have sprung up – well, enough of us to make a significant number of covers at a restaurant – all mildly obsessed with this brilliantly terrible film. Mention Burnt to the right person and their eyes will flame with delight, recalling its cosmic badness. It’s a bit of insider knowledge that not everyone has glommed on to yet, like knowing about a great little restaurant off the beaten track.
Right now we’re at the end of awards season and Bradley Cooper has been taking his somewhat leathery-looking face around the red carpets. The man himself cuts a more disconsolate figure of late as it becomes clear that his critical and commercial smash hit revival of A Star Is Born may not pick up all the Oscars he clearly intended it to – and seemed likely to a couple of months back. Cooper declared himself embarrassed not to have secured a Best Director nomination, “I felt I hadn’t done my job,” he said.
What’s been clear throughout the process is that Bradley Cooper is a very serious performer indeed – and this self-seriousness can be seen starting to simmer in Burnt. Though Cooper only acted in the earlier film, not the writer-director-producer-singer-lighting-and-costume-designer of the latter, to me Burnt is where you see the A Star is Born version of Cooper crystallise. He plays a damaged but brilliant man; there’s a ingenue-protegee-love interest who may one day surpass him; it has an impressive ensemble cast and film pedigree that may have led all involved to think they were making important, award-winning fare. But while the world thinks A Star is Born is a great film (except the Academy, it seems), no one will confuse Burnt with a good film, despite lofty intentions.
It’s also amusing to note that fans who take to Spotify to listen to the A Star is Born soundtrack will notice on the Bradley Cooper artist page, another track by the man himself – "Ode to a Sous-Vide" from the Burnt soundtrack: the bizarro vocal performance is the centrepiece of the emotional crux of the film – it is part of both the best and worst scene in the movie, and arguably the most unintentionally funny moment in 21st century cinema (we’ll return to this).
But all this is mere amuse-bouche, aperitif and starter to the mains now sitting warmed at the pass: that is, Burnt is fucking terrible. Spectacularly so.
I’ve never been one for so-bad-it’s-good films – life seems too short to actually watch The Room. Some friends, however, had been alerting me to Burnt’s inverse greatness. One night, unable to get to sleep, I decided to watch a film: I was too tired to look at something, you know, good, so I decided it was time to believe the hype and taste Burnt.
Minutes in and I was enjoying the hell out of it – but not really in the way the filmmakers may have intended. To borrow a line from Anthony Lane’s famous review of Indecent Proposal: “As I watched these early scenes, I began to tremble with anticipation: this could be the great bad film of our time …”
Whereas The Room was made by an amateur with little understanding of the mechanics of cinema, creating in the end almost outsider art, Burnt has accomplished, safe pairs of hands all over it. The director, John Wells, has worked on the likes of ER and The West Wing, as well as directing August: Osage County and Love and Mercy. Stephen Knight, the writer, is the brains behind Peaky Blinders, Eastern Promises, Dirty Pretty Things and Locke, among others. The cast is stuffed too – alongside Cooper are Sienna Miller, Daniel Bruhl, Emma Thompson, Lily James, Omar Sy, Uma Thurman, Matthew Rhys, Ricardo Scamarcio and Alicia Vikander.
But, despite the veneer of professionalism, the whole thing unravels.
Take the basic premise: we’re supposed to root for our hero, the burnt-out chef seeking redemption. But from the very first scene, when he stomps out of the oyster shucking business, all the audience thinks is, this guy is a dickhead and I want him to fail (this does not change).
The story rumbles on: Bradley Cooper plays Adam Jones, a troubled chef who has won two Michelin Stars, fallen on hard times but now needs to fight and cook his way back to glory.
Jones comes to London with the aim of reconnecting with friends from his debauched Paris days – everyone seems to have helpfully relocated to the UK – start cooking again and win his third Star. He persuades an old friend who manages the underperforming restaurant at the Langham Hotel, to let him become head chef and “save” his failing enterprise. He acquires a motorbike along the way, then assembles other former colleagues and discovers fresh cooking talent and brings them to his new kitchen. There are fights and drama and plot twists and failures. Naturally there is a side salad of romance. Eventually, Adam learns to be a better chef, a better man, fuck it – a better manager of people in a 21st century working environment. In the end – spoiler alert – he earns that Michelin Star. The film concludes with Jones sitting down to the traditional pre-shift “family meal” with the staff of his restaurant – his true family. Music swells. The end. Compliments to the chef.
Of course that doesn’t do justice to the tableau of terribleness on offer, so in the name of brevity, I’ll offer a brief rundown of some choice cuts – a tasting menu of Burnt, if you will.
The film takes itself terrifically seriously and it abounds with portentous soliloquies about the importance of food – Adam lectures Helene, his chefing protégé turned love interest played by Sienna Miller, about “peasant food” via the means of a Whopper at the Leicester Square Burger King. Later he tells her that she and he deal “in culinary orgasms”, and that he wants to “make food that makes people stop eating”, leaving diners “sick with longing”. There are also lots of irritating foodie affectations, like how people plainly compliment a meal with the words, “it’s good” and a knowing nod. And Adam Jones has a bizarre running feud with the concept of sous-vide cooking, which he describes as a food condom – despite such pre-prep methods of cooking being a staple of modern kitchens.
It is entirely credulous of the extremely dated notion of the rock and roll chef, years after the '90s hijinks of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential and the petulance of Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay. Throughout we are continually told that Jones is brilliant and charismatic and that everyone is in love with him – despite there being no on-the-plate evidence to prove the thesis.
Of course Sienna Miller’s Helene falls for AJ. How could she not swoon in front of someone so passionate about escargot, even if he is borderline abusive? To get Helene to work for him, AJ says he will double her salary – as a single mum this is an offer she can’t refuse. Later, after Cooper makes her apologise to a badly cooked turbot and a blazing row ensues, prompting Miller to get out of the kitchen, she is only persuaded to come back to work when her wage is tripled again: a friend and I did a back-of-a-napkin estimate of Helene’s salary at this stage and we put it at somewhere between £80k - £150k, which would surely make her the highest paid sous-chef in Britain.
Ultimately the pair cook and fight and eventually make great food together; inevitably they kiss too. Equally it’s clear that Daniel Bruhl, playing the manager/maitre’d is in love with Adam Jones. This is sort-of consummated in a single, conciliatory and deeply problematic kiss. While Uma Thurman, the Evening Standard’s restaurant critic (!), also weirdly reveals that while a lesbian, she once had sex with the chef. More importantly, she shows up for a meal at the restaurant and performs what I like to call Burntface: a plate of food arrives at table, she takes a morsel on a fork, the camera watches closely as she sucks the food into her mouth and then her eyes move heavenward, rapt, orgasmic, sick with longing.
Omar Sy is another one of Adam’s culinary cohorts. They have an early dust up outside the al fresco section of the Leicester Square Burger King: he’s got beef with AJ who previously sabotaged his own restaurant venture. They have a brief fight and then quickly make up with Omar agreeing to work at the Langham. Later, in a dramatic twist, Sy sabotages a meal intended for what may or may not be Michelin judges by over-seasoning a sauce. He then shows his hand, streaked with pepper. It’s payback for Paris he says, and walks out.
Matthew Rhys plays Montgomery Reece, a one-time collaborator turned rival. He runs Reece, a high-end restaurant cooking fancy molecular looking fare. He is Salieri to Cooper’s Mozart in the film’s formulation. The pair will clash along the way as the rivalry is revived.
In one great moment, after AJ’s revived restaurant gets a four star review in the Times with the stirring headline, “Adam Jones at the Langham Surprises and Delights”, Montgomery is so annoyed that he trashes his entire restaurant – every chair, table and plate is destroyed. With Reece’s in pieces he is prompted to relaunch his own enterprise.
Later in the film’s finest scene, AJ has fallen off the wagon after the disaster of Omar Sy’s revenge a la cayenne pepper, and shows up drunk at the Reece kitchen. It’s time for Jones and Reece to have their climactic stand-off. Out of control and wildly overacting, Cooper bellows an overture and grabs for a sous-vide bag with which he then attempts to suffocate himself. Thankfully Montgomery prevents this unprecedented sous-vide-cide, Adam then cries in his arms and they come to a greater understanding. It is bafflingly, brilliantly, beautifully bad *chef’s kiss*. Monty lets Adam sleep it off in the kitchen and in the morning makes Jones a cup of coffee and a two-egg omelette. “It’s good,” says Adam.
Ostensibly, Burnt looks like a standard, average film – a three star-er that you’d watch on a plane or when you’ve grown tired of scrolling through Netflix. But look closely and you realise that there is something wrong with virtually every moment in the film: one scene won’t make sense, the next is unintentionally funny, another is just plain obnoxious, more seem to exist largely to prove that Bradley speaks conversational French – it’s a smorgasbord of rubbish.
Put simply, if you haven’t yet seen Burnt, the only right and proper thing to do is savour its tastes right now – come join us Burntheads. It is a film so bad it will make you want to stop watching, yet you can’t turn away. You’ll be sick with longing. It’s good.

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