US Release Date: 08-08-2014
Directed by: Lasse Hallstrom
- Helen Mirren, as
- Madame Mallory
- Om Puri, as
- Manish Dayal, as
- Hassan Haji
- Charlotte Le Bon, as
- Amit Shah, as
- Farzana Dua Elahe, as
- Dillon Mitra, as
- Aria Pandya, as
- Juhi Chawla, as
- Rohan Chand, as
- Young Hassan Haji
- Michel Blanc, as
- Vincent Elbaz as
Om Puri, Manish Dayal, and Helen Mirren in The Hundred-Foot Journey.
The Hundred-Foot Journey is Lasse Hallström's latest schmaltz fest. In setting, plot, and spirit, it most closely resembles his 2000 Best Picture nominee Chocolat. Like that movie, this one is set in a quaint French village with a focus on food. Instead of the sight of rich pastries and decadent chocolate confections, we are treated to many scenes featuring fine French cuisine and steaming Indian curry dishes. I don't recommend watching this movie on an empty stomach.
A family of Indian immigrants relocates to a village in the South of France after trying London and finding it too cold (and that English vegetables lack soul). After the brakes on their van go out on the outskirts of a tiny village, and they survive what could have been a deadly crash, the father assumes that fate has given them a sign. Against the wishes of his grown-up children he decides to open an Indian restaurant in an old abandoned building. What he doesn't know at first is that the most successful French restaurant within 50 kilometers is located directly across the street, a mere hundred feet away.
This section of the movie is the most entertaining as we see the Indian family struggling to make a go of their new business while being undermined by the ambitious and snobby owner of the restaurant across the road. Helen Mirren is perfectly cast as Madame Mallory, a woman who would gladly sell her soul for a second Michelin star. This part calls for Mirren to start off as a bit of a villain only to change her stripes halfway through. Hassan, one of the Indian family sons, is an aspiring chef with a gift for blending different spices. He begins a tentative friendship with a young woman chef who works for the competition. This movie tells the story of his rise in the highly competitive world of gourmet cuisine while also tossing in a few mild romances.
The clash of culture scenes work well. When Madame Mallory first visits her new competition she condescendingly remarks that, “If your cooking is like your music, I suggest you tone it down a bit.” The battle of wills between Mirren's arrogant, ambitious restaurant owner and the equally stubborn Indian family patriarch played by Om Puri provides the movie with its best moments.
The final third of the movie gets pretty sappy as Hallström ties up every relationship with a bow. The happy, romantic ending can be seen coming from a distance of more than a hundred feet. Unfortunately the script takes its sweet time getting there. The scenes of Hassan in Paris take too long to unfold and they really slow the story down.
The Hundred-Foot Journey was produced by Hollywood titans Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg. Not surprisingly then, it has a feel-good, clash-of-cultures motif with an emphasis on the culinary arts, and several halfhearted love stories thrown in for good measure. It contains all the ingredients for a gastronomical cinematic feast, but the plot gets spread too thin over the course of this two hour movie.
Charlotte Le Bon and Manish Dayal in The Hundred-Foot Journey.
For a movie about food, this one's pretty bland. There's more spice in the dishes being prepared onscreen than there is in the actual story. The characters, their obstacles and the ending all feels very safe and predictable. And without any surprises, this makes the 2 hour running time feel even longer.
As Patrick said, the early section of the film is the most entertaining. Watching the Haji family trying to settle in France provides a few laughs and Helen Mirren makes a good snooty antagonist for them to go up against. Unfortunately, this portion is all too brief and Mirren's Madame Mallory softens too easily, quickly becoming as heartwarming as the rest of the cast. And the autumn romance between her and the patriarch of the Haji family never rings true. Even the love story between Hassan and Marguerite feels underdone and inevitable.
The third act portion of the story, where we see Hassan rise as a chef feels almost like another movie entirely. His departure from his family home is treated in far too melodramatic a manner. Yes, it's metaphorically a long trip for him to travel those hundred feet, but his family and the script treats it as if he is physically traveling hundreds of miles away. And once he leaves for Paris, the story seems to forget that this is the modern age when phone calls, email, texting and social media make it easier than ever to remain in close contact with someone. Here, Hassan, who has always been incredibly close to his family, seems to have dropped all contact with them, apart from one mention of his father about writing him a letter.
At least the cast is good. Mirren could play snooty in her sleep and if she'd been allowed to really play up the bitchy aspect of her character this part might have been more memorable. Om Puri, as the stubborn Haji father, provides a few moments of comic relief, although like most of the humor, it's more chuckle worthy than gut busting. Manish Dayal, the star of the film, is adequate as Hassan without being spectacular and thus fits the mood of the film perfectly.
The setting is idlyic. The shots of the French countryside are breathtaking and the village is picturesque. If nothing else the movie might prove a boon to the French tourism board.
Despite my mild complaints, there's nothing overly wrong with this movie. There's just nothing particularly good about it either, although the mostly elderly members of the audience in the theater when I watched it, seemed to enjoy it well enough. Perhaps this was Hallstrom's target audience so he deliberately kept things from getting too tense, exciting or even interesting lest he cause shocks to the weak hearted. If that was his intent then he more than succeeded.
Charlotte Le Bon and Manish Dayal in The Hundred Foot Journey
The Hundred-Foot Journey is a food orgy. As Patrick wrote, we are constantly shown dish after dish of Indian and French cuisine. Some look appetizing while others look artistic. It got me to thinking of my diet. This past week I have eaten chicken nuggets from a fast food restaurant and a steak with a parmesan shrimp sauce from another. Tonight I plan on making tortellini with my own homemade pasta sauce. Like everyone, I love food and at different times and places can enjoy almost any kind.
This film celebrates food as a metaphor for life. We all have favorite dishes but should occasionally try new things. After all, variety is the spice of life, as they say. The scene where Hassan cooks from a hundred year old French recipe and adds some of his Indian spices to it, speaks for itself.
As nice as those elements are, the script has little friction beyond the one scene of a fire that seems more forced than sincere to the plot. The films best moments are Mirren and Puri bickering. She insistently complains that his food is over spiced while he ends up yelling at her, “Don’t sprinkle it. Spoon it in.”
I also liked the mild love story between Hassan and Marguerite but it lacks heat. Their love story could have been a variation on Romeo and Juliet as each of their bosses hates the other. It could have been taboo as they have such ethnic and religious differences. There were many exciting directions their relationship could have gone in but the writers chose the blandest of paths. They meet. They smile. They flirt innocently. They separate and then they get back together. The film makers put more passion into the food than their relationship.
Like Scott mentioned, the script makes it seem as if this movie took place some 40 years ago. The love story is chaste. They ride on bikes and collect wild vegetables. We never see a computer or a cell phone. The clothes are standard wear from the 1950s. The attitudes are old fashioned and we never hear contemporary slang. It all adds some wholesomeness to the mix but it is not enough to elevate the entertainment.
The Hundred-Foot Journey celebrates foods ability to create memories through its smells and tastes. Food brings people together and is present at most celebrations. It warms the heart and fills the belly. The aroma can tease and excite. Food not only sustains life but can make it more worthwhile. This film may be interesting culinary porn but it is truly lacking in a fascinating story arc.
Photos © Copyright Touchstone Pictures (2014)