Director Lasse Hallström’s The Hundred-Foot Journey is like a dessert: sweet, but too much of it is a bad idea.
Car trouble leads the Kadam family, Indian expats travelling from London – where the “vegetables have no soul,” according to the family’s gifted cook/middle son Hassan (Manish Dayal) – to spend a night in the small town of Saint-Antonin in the South of France. Out on a stroll and guided by fate or the voice of his dead wife, Papa Kadam (Om Puri) sets his sights on an abandoned building across the road from the Saule Pleureur, a Michelin-starred restaurant run by the stern and tough Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren). Logic would have it that the kind of clientele that would visit the Saule Pleureur and Maison Mumbai, the Indian restaurant the Kadams want to open 100 feet from Mallory’s eatery, could not be more different. But this is a movie that defies logic and completely deaf to how real, sensible people would react in the situations in which it places it characters. Mallory and Papa are on a mission to sabotage each other’s establishments, unbeknownst to them that Marguerite (Catherine Le Bon), a sous-chef at the Saule Pleureur, and Hassan have become friendly. In fact, Marguerite has turned Hassan on to French cuisine, and now he is pursuing an apprenticeship at Madame Mallory’s sophisticated restaurant. The conflict throughout the film is mostly playful and resolved almost as quickly as it arises.
The Hundred-Foot Journey is well-acted and it’s enjoyable enough, but it’s often corny. During one of their conversations, Marguertie and Hassan agree that “food is memories.” Marguerite tells Hassan that recipes have no use in books, and that he “must find them in your heart.” Some of the dialogue between the French chefs and between members of the Kadam family is in French and Indian, naturally, but the film isn’t subtitled. Instead, the characters either repeat their own lines in English or another character translates them. This was incredibly annoying to sit through, not to mention that subtitling these scenes could very realistically have shaven about 10 minutes from the film’s runtime.
At 122 minutes, this Journey is far too long, especially when considering it’s the sum of parts of much superior films. Hallström’s Chocolat is much more charming and Pixar’s Ratatouille was much more honest in its depiction of the cutthroat world of French cuisine. Of course, those movies don’t star Dame Helen Mirren, and while she and Montreal actress Charlotte Le Bon steal the show, it never seems like the film’s intention. The women in Journey, when faced with a challenge, turn cold, bitter and rude. The men (Puri and Dayal) are funny, likeable, charming and heroic in the face of opposition. Still, Mirren and Le Bon’s roles were meatier, much like Emma Thompson’s in Saving Mr. Banks, which treated its female protagonist similarly to those in The Hundred-Foot Journey. Mirren’s Mallory could have been a Miranda Priestly-esque character, but facing off against the Kadams, she comes off as a mean-spirited bully.
★★ (out of ★★★★)