Review by Cole Groth
Immediately opening on the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, which caused $17 Billion in damage to Wilmington, North Carolina, We Feed People presents us with José Andrés, a larger-than-life celebrity chef-or rather, cook, as he prefers to be called — with a single goal in mind: feeding everybody and anybody who needs food. It's an admirable goal, and his love for cooking shines through every moment in this documentary. In the rather well-paced 90-minute runtime, we see how he helped out in many crises, including the COVID-19 response in both the Navajo Nation and New York City and the issues he faced along the way.
Due to the stature of José Andrés, it's important for Howard to take some time to develop his background. After moving to America when he was 21, Andrés quickly rose to fame and power as a chef, often credited with bringing Spanish tapas, or small plates (which is ironic considering the scale of the meals he serves as a humanitarian chef), into the light as a popular dining option. After scaling up considerably and leading many restaurants throughout the United States, Andrés formed the World Central Kitchen, an NGO which provides food to people in need. In the last 12 years, we've seen many natural disasters destroy countries like Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba. At each of these tragic events, World Central Kitchen and José Andrés have been on the scene. Andrés' love for food and helping others is characteristic of him, emphasized through interviews given by his wife and daughters.
When taking time to focus on Andrés instead of his humanitarian efforts, Howard paints the image of a man who feels brutally honest. He cares most deeply about helping other people but doesn't try to hide his emotions or otherwise create a facade of who he is. Multiple times throughout the film, Andrés is captured in moments of frustration, which help in showing that he's just an ordinary person. In the modern cooking world, it's impossible to see figures like Gordon Ramsay or Martha Stewart as very down to Earth people, but Andrés stands out as a man with his blemishes on full display. His dedication to his family underlines why Andrés is so willing to help whoever needs it. There are frequent points where he's a bit of an awkward presence on camera, and while that contributes to the overall tonally inconsistent feel to the film, it at least makes him seem more natural.
On a technical level, We Feed People isn't very special. Taking lots of iPhone footage or clips from Twitter, Ron Howard is able to lead us through the story of the harrowing disasters that we see, but it's not quite engaging enough to feel completely satisfying. However, one of the biggest issues with this documentary is a general lack of personality. Seeing that this was directed by Ron Howard is rather confusing because there aren't any directorial choices that stand out. Howard has clearly shown interest in the struggles of humanity, emphasized most apparently in 2020's Hillbilly Elegy, so his rather by-the-books approach to Andrés' story is surprising. One of the moments that does have personality later is when, after Andrés yells at one of his workers, one of the women receiving aid starts demanding an apology from him. It's an uncomfortable point in the documentary, and it's hard to pinpoint exactly what the point of the scene was. Andrés apologizes profusely, ending the scene on an unpleasant note. There aren't many moments like this, but they still stick out like a sore thumb in an otherwise smooth journey.
With those issues aside, it's hard not to fall in love with Andrés's pure ambition for helping others. At every moment he can, Andrés is figuring out how he can best help the people who need assistance while also making the food taste as good as possible and creating as little waste as he can. He's innovative, enigmatic, and a caring man who deserves his place in the spotlight. We Feed People is able to effectively show how, even though our seemingly more frequent moments of disruption, humanity is able to persevere.
We Feed People is available on Disney+ now.