“The Hundred-Foot Journey” is a food movie, so you can expect a lot of scenes featuring beautiful and tasty looking food paired with beautiful and tasty looking sequences of it being delicately prepared. Often times with sunrays glowing through a nearby window. To top things off, the movie is set in a remote French town surrounded by four green hills where fireworks seem to go off every other week. Seriously, there are a lot of firework displays in the span of this movie. All of which to say that, the picture is pretty to look at and painless to watch but in the end there isn’t much great about it.
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom (“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”), “The Hundred Foot-Journey” is primarily about the clash of two food cultures; Indian and classic French. A culture that uses too much spice vs. a culture that doesn’t use enough. An Indian family decides to try their luck at the restaurant game in Europe after bad luck befalls them in their homeland. They’re going to add a little spice to this old little French town (*cue movie trailer voice). Of course it isn’t going to be easy, they set up shop right across the street from an upscale French restaurant run by the strict and curmudgeonly Madam Mallory (Helen Mirren), who doesn’t much care for the competition, or the different cuisine. She’s already won a Michelin star but wants to win another.
“The Hundred-Foot Journey,”—the two restaurants are precisely a hundred feet apart from one another, get it? —is a perfectly pleasant movie to watch. It’s never bad or outright offensive; in fact it’s anything but offensive. Even with its “battle of the restaurants” premise it stays on its best behavior. Unfortunately, it never rises to anything great either. The story remains flat line for the most part, the screenplay by Steven Knight—The Steven Knight who made “Locke” I might add—goes through the motions, hitting its cliché beats. “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” may have suffered from a lackluster third act but the first two thirds had a quirky, easygoing energy to it that made it fun to watch. I’m not sure if it was the screenplay, or the chemistry between the two leads—Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt—or some combination of both but “Hundred-Foot” doesn’t contain that same energy. While I chuckled occasionally the humor over all feels forced and Knight’s script contains more cliche dialogue (“we’re going to turn the heat up,” “home is where family is…”) than the script for “Yemen.” Again, none of “Hundred-Foot Journey” is bad, although it could have used some more spice and flair.
Sorry. That was low hanging fruit; I had to go for it.
Om Puri is entertaining to watch as the wise, prideful father and manager of the Indian restaurant, while Mirren is a master at playing the stubborn and uptight Madam Mallory. The movie also features two fresh faced young‘uns, Hassan (Manish Dayal), the main chef for the Indian restaurant and son of Puri’s character and Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), the sous chef of Madam Mallory who eventually fall in love. The two relative newcomers do their best and while they are nice to look at they don’t quite have the same breezy back and forth chemistry that McGregor and Blunt had.
Around the halfway point in “Hundred-Foot”, the story changes rather drastically from a rival restaurant picture to a “young chef in the big city” one. Circumstances lead Hassan to become an apprentice of Madam Mallory—his spice infused cuisine warms her icy heart—and after earning her another Michelin star he goes to Paris to work in one of those sleek, modern food clubs where cooking is treated more like a science than an art (Where’s the heart and soul, man!?). It’s at this point that the picture goes from being bland but pleasant to laborious and sappy. Everything begins to feel drawn out, as if Hallstrom thinks that the audience doesn’t know how the story’s going to conclude. For spoiler purposes I won’t mention the ending, but I think it’s pretty obvious. Not only that, the movie becomes increasingly heavy handed, its themes of family and fate handled with the subtly of a meat tenderizer. And finally, while Hallstrom applies the sappiness sparingly during the first half, for whatever reason he decides to dump the entire container of it onto the second.
All right, that’s enough of the food metaphors.
And yet, “The Hundred-Foot Journey” is tolerable, mainly because of the many loving shots of food. I’m not kidding, the food looks really great. Not eating before the advance screening was a terrible idea. The film not only made me hungry but made me angry that my own fridge wasn’t stocked with gourmet French and Indian food when I got home.