THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY- The Review
So are you just getting your appetite back after experiencing the “foodie” film delight of the surprise box office hit from May, CHEF (hmm. those were some filling, satisfying Cuban sandwiches!)? Master cinema chefs/producers Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg along with director Lasse Hallstrom (SAFE HAVEN) and screenwriter Steven Knight (LOCKE) have whipped up an opulant movie entrée based on the best selling work from Richard C. Morais, THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY. So after the big, bombastic blockbusters this Summer are audiences ready to head back to the kitchen to watch the balletic, almost action-star choreographed, cooks and servers trying to prepare succulent dishes in record time? Perhaps that’s part of the appeal of the many, many reality cooking and restaurant reality TV shows. Just make sure you’ve had a substantial meal before heading to the multiplex, because with all the culinary delights on display, the popcorn (tasty as it can be) may not cut it. The usher/ matre’d will seat you now…
The person making the JOURNEY is Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal), who,even as a young lad, was dubbed “the boy who knows”, because of his expert skill with food and his gifted senses, particularly of taste and smell. He’s the star chef at the family restaurant in India, until it is destroyed in a horrific tragedy. Undaunted, Hassan’s Papa (Om Puri) takes him and his two brothers and two sisters to start over in London. When this move doesn’t work out, they’re off again, this time to try their luck in France. Just outside the village of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val in the beautiful southern part of the country, their rickety van breaks down. Luckily they are helped by aspiring chef Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), who feeds them, puts the van in the garage, and checks the family into a local hostel. Early that morning Papa sees an empty, shuttered restaurant and has an epiphany, He will buy the space and turn it into an Indian cuisine eatery. Hassan protests, saying that the locals are too unfamiliar with their spicy dishes. And besides, it’s right across the street (a hundred feet to be exact) from the celebrated classical French restaurant Le Saule Pleureur. But Papa is not deterred and soon the Maison Mumbai is open for business, much to the disdain of Le Saule’s owner Madam Mallory (Helen Mirren). And so begins a turf war between Papa and Mallory for the taste buds of the village. But soon Hassan develops an interest in French cuisine and for Marguerite. Can the two young romantics put an end to the conflict and cook happily ever after?
The film really coasts on the confident star power of Mirren. Her Mallory has a haughty arrogance in the early scenes, but Mirren shows us her vulnerable side. After the death of her husband, she’s lonely and puts all of her energy and desires into the running of her restaurant and the race for the Michelin star, the proverbial gold ring. In the later parts of the film. we get a glimpse of Mallory’s nurturing, maternal qualities as she takes in Hassan. She’s a great compliment to his other paternal figure, Puri as his stubborn, feisty father. He too deals with a great loss, but can’t indulge his sorrow in front of his children. He must be strong, to keep them focused on his new project, his determination and a touch of craftiness will provide a new prosperous life in this foreign land. Dayal is an energetic, wide-eyed hero who tries to temper his pop while being eager to learn new skills, and not forgetting his roots. Yes, he’s born with great talents, but he also must push himself and work very hard. Le Bon is a pixie-ish beauty who also has that same drive, while sharing her knowledge and kindness with the whole Kadam family.
Here’s the important part for much of the audience: the dishes look delicious. While the French dishes look artistically pleasing, with tiny bits of meat, sauce, and veggies arranged just so, the Indian foods look quite filling and substantial. Just viewing them, you almost want to loosen your belt. It’s a shame that the scenes away from the dining tables and kitchens aren’t quite as compelling. The romance of Hassan and Marguerite seems too rote, too pre-ordained. There’s not enough sparks between the two, and a second act conflict seems added just to keep us invested in their story. A mush more interesting relationship is that of Mallory and Papa Kadam with their antagonism melting to mutual respect and perhaps affection. And the location cinematography just sweeps us off our feet (and will send many to their fave travel websites). So the actors are wonderful, the story’s entertaining if familiar, and the meals are a feast for the eyes. THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY is a warm, heartfelt serving of cinematic comfort food that should hit the spot for most “movie foodies”.
3.5 Out of 5