Film Review – The Hundred-Foot Journey
The Hundred-Foot Journey
Let’s get something straight right off the bat: The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014) is a fantasy. This is a story that does not resemble the real world, but something out of a fairy tale. It’s set in a magical village in the south of France, where everybody plays their part to perfection. There’s even a lovely young French girl who rides around town on her bicycle, equipped with a stereotypical breadbasket. Do all French girls ride bicycles equipped with breadbaskets? Sure, there are stakes at hand, but there’s a heavy dose of sentimentality informing us that – when all is said and done – these characters will be ok long after the film has ended. There’s no real danger or sense of urgency, and whatever problems arise, whether it be racism or class struggle, they can all be fixed with a well-cooked meal.
Granted, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you’re into simple, pleasant movies that offer two-hour escapist entertainment, this may be for you. Director Lasse Hallström (with screenwriter Steven Knight, adapted from the book by Richard C. Morais) has crafted a story that is completely fine. “Fine” is the keyword here. The plot is “fine”, the characters are “fine”, the direction and writing are “fine”, etc. This is where we meet characters that love cooking so much they won’t pick up a certain food if it’s lacking soul. It’s so safe and sugary sweet that it’s almost difficult to write anything about it. How much can one really say about a film that plays so firmly down the middle?
There are two opposing forces at play. The first are the Kadams, a family from Mumbai who, after a political uprising forces them out of India, make their way to a small French town to resettle and open a restaurant. The head of the Kadams is referred to as “Papa” (Om Puri). Papa is resilient and thrifty, and believes that since there are no other Indian restaurants for miles, folks will come if only for the sake of curiosity. His family members are all well capable cooks, but his son Hassan (Manish Dayal) has developed promising skills. Hassan is a natural prodigy, who wishes to learn more about the intricacies of gourmet food even outside of his culture, and takes advantage of their time in France to soak in the cuisine.
Trouble arises when the Kadams open shop literally across the street (hence the title) from a well established French restaurant. The restaurant is run by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren). Madame Mallory is a tough owner who expects only the very best from her chefs. There is even this loony character trait where she tests a possible applicant by taking one bite of their prepared meals. Apparently she can tell from one bite whether or not they are good enough to work for her. Talk about high standards. Helen Mirren is effective – as always – as the unbending headmaster. She is so desperate to remain the most popular restaurant in town that she’ll do anything to prevent other businesses from becoming competition.
The rivalry between the Kadams and Madame Mallory takes the spotlight for much of the first half. How Papa and Madame Mallory go back and forth, trying to sabotage each other’s business while upgrading their own, make for some of the funnier sequences. It’s surreal to see these two restaurants – different in every sort of way – battle each other for the attention of the townspeople. Om Puri and Helen Mirren go toe to toe with each other, never backing down from the fight. Hmm, let’s think about this for a moment. She can’t stand the thought of another restaurant competing with her, and he can’t stand the thought of another business outdoing his. Can you take a wild guess where these two will end up?
The screenplay varies wildly in narrative focus. It’s never sure what story it wants to tell. Is this about the grudge between Madame Mallory and Papa, or is it about Hassan growing as a cook and making a name for himself? Is it about the romance Hassan develops with Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), who works as one of Madame Mallory’s cooks? Is this about different cultures learning to exist with one another, or is it about realizing that old cliché: home is where the heart is? After what we think is a major plot threads ends, we have another hour to go as the narrative shifts gears and highlights another character. It’s this odd wavering that makes the entire piece feel loose. By the time it actually does ends, I hesitated thinking, “Ok, is this it, or is there something else we need to cover?”
Have you ever watched those movies where every outdoor shot has a beautiful sunset, or where night scenes are lit with countless light bulbs hung on a string? That’s exactly what The Hundred-Foot Journey is like. It’s non-threatening, amiable, and often humorous. It delivers exactly as advertised, nothing more, nothing less.