- Jennifer Green
Wolfgang Puck looks back at his own life in this documentary, providing moments of insight but also the sense that ends have been tied up a smidge too neatly. In Wolfgang, director David Gelb combines first-hand interviews with clips, mostly from the height of Puck's fame in the 1980s and '90s, and photographs from his early years.
The footage and memories of how popular his Hollywood restaurant Spago was in that era are great fun. The floor manager recalls reading The Hollywood Reporter daily so she could seat people according to their changing status in the business.
Puck tells the star-oriented origin stories of some of his best-known dishes, like a smoked salmon pizza created on the spot for Joan Collins or his frozen pizza line, inspired by Johnny Carson's take-out orders. The documentary makes a clever move as well by using footage of cities from specific eras when it talks about the past.
Gelb also follows the Austria-born Puck on a visit back to his hometown to see his sister and revisit scenes from his childhood. These segments are woven in and out with the high points of his career, keeping the film from getting bogged down in too much past darkness.
Some of his memories are dramatized with a young figure walking through places and events Puck recalls, including a moment as a teen when he stood on a bridge and contemplated suicide. Dramatizations like this can rub some viewers the wrong way, but they do stick in the memory and complement the other forms of storytelling here.
Now in his 70s, Puck is contemplative, reflecting on mistakes made, what drove him to the success he had, and what he now considers priority. Some of these conclusions feel a bit too tidy, too one-sided. You wonder what you're not being told. But fans of Puck and the culture of celebrity chefs in general will enjoy this retrospective of a landmark career and a moment in time.
Read the full review at Common Sense Media.