Genre: Drama, Romance
Directed by: Lasse Hallström
Starring: Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal, Charlotte Le Bon
It’s advisable not to go into The Hundred-Foot Journey on an empty stomach. For indeed, the film takes delight in languishing in its gastro-porn traits, as cinematographer Linus Sandgren’s camera elegantly lingers over the exquisite French haute cuisine and majestically colourful Indian delights on display. If only the film itself were as delectable as the treats themselves. Instead of haute cuisine, we are left with something more akin to fast food: predictable, simple, and does exactly what it says on the tin.
It’s easy to see why heavyweight producers Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey became so infatuated with the project. With it’s whimsical, culinary infused uplifting sensibility, this predictable and bloated crowd-pleasing adaptation of Richard C. Morais’ 2010 best-selling novel, is a perfectly conventional designed concoction of trite and sentiment.
It will no doubt satisfy the tastes of cinemagoers looking for sheer escapism, who are looking for something akin to the likes of director Lasse Hallstrom’s similarly food themed Chocolat and the East-meets-west culture clash of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Unfortunately though, the film falls short of its aspirations, ultimately failing to satisfy the appetite of anyone hoping for more
After tragedy strikes, the Kadam family, led by their dreamer and restaurateur Papa (Om Puri), relocate from Mumbai to the south of France. They open an Indian restaurant, a mere one hundred feet across the street from the classy, Michelin star restaurant Le Saule Pleureur, run by its pompous proprietor and upholder of Gallic tradition, Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren).
Naturally of course, Madame Mallory is not happy with these new arrivals and what transpires is a sort of polite version of Bad Neighbors with Mallory and Papa engaging in a culture clash of childish proportions. All the while, our would be protagonist, Hassan, begins to shine and reveal himself as a gifted and talented chef in his own right, and may just be the key to attaining Madame Mallory a much coveted second Michelin star.
From the outset, you will no doubt be able to tell where all this is going – a film where cultural opposites learn to coexist together through the universal language of food. The film gleefully employs French and Indian stereotypes to full comedic effect. The French are arrogant, rude hoity toity types, while the Kadam family are boisterous and exotic, playing loud Indian music and filling the air with their cultural spices.
Any hint of potential conflict in the form of French xenophobia or any wider political spectrum is afforded no more than cursory glances before being glazed over with romantic wanderings. A racially motivated attack is quickly glossed, while the “election” that forced the Kadam family to move is never fully explained. In a way, the film’s choice to be a thoroughly crowd-pleasing tale unfortunately relives the film of much of its dramatic conflict, preferring to delight in its culinary delights and the beautifully shot, story book like locales.
A film like The Hundred-Foot Journey is an easy film to sneer at. Yes, it’s fanciful and whimsy, but it’s a difficult film not to like. In fact, unless you’re truly a cold-hearted cynic, there will be at least a couple of things in here that will put a smile on your face.
Helen Mirren and Om Puri both revel in their roles as duelling restaurateurs and gradual friends. Mirren especially, eschewing Madame Mallory’s pomposity, while gradually revealing the vulnerability and depth locked away beneath the initial icy exterior, that will inevitably be melted away before long, while Puri is as reliable and witty as ever. They make for an incredibly likeable pairing, lifting the film above its more conventional trappings.
Our would-be protagonist, Hassan, however is left somewhat in the cold. Manish Dayal does his best as Hassan, but is left without much to do, his character lacking in much depth until the final third, but by then it’s already too late. Attempting to inject some much needed depth to his character, the film’s attempts at recreating a Ratatouille inspired epiphany, falls short of that film’s wonderfully realized moment, while his romance with Charlotte Le Bon’s sous chef Marguerite lacks flavour and spark.
It may be bloated and easy to sneer at, but The Hundred-Foot Journey is comfort food pure and simple. It’s an uplifting and unashamedly romanticised film, beautifully designed, even if the final meal is never wholly satisfying.
Not quite haute cuisine then, but not exactly fast food either.