The Hundred-Foot Journey


Helen Mirren as Madame Mallory
Om Puri as Papa
Manish Dayal as Hassan
Charlotte Le Bon as Marguerite
Amit Shah as Mansur
Farzana Dua Elahe as Mahira
Dillon Mitra as Mukthar
Aria Pandya as Aisha
Michel Blanc as Mayor
Clément Sibony as Jean-Pierre
Vincent Elbaz as Paul
Juhi Chawla as Mama
Alban Aumard as Marcel
Shuna Lemoine as Mayor’s Wife
Antoine Blanquefort as Thomas

Directed by Lasse Hallstrom

When an Indian family’s car breaks down in the South of France, their patriarch “Papa” (Om Puri) decides this is the ideal place to open an Indian restaurant, putting them at odds with Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), the owner of a fancy Michelin star French restaurant across the street. Despite her annoyance about the competition, she sees true culinary talent in Papa’s son Hassan (Manish Dayal) and agrees to take him under her wing to teach him French cooking techniques.

Trying to capitalize on the growing foodie endemic that’s developed from the number of cooking shows currently on television, while also attempting to give Americans another taste of Indian culture after whetting their appetites with films like “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Life of Pi,” Oscar-nominated filmmaker Lasse Hallstrom and screenwriter Steven Knight adapt Richard Morais’ novel of the same name.

Having not read said novel, it’s hard to gauge how faithful or accurate the resulting film is to what one presumes is a true story. While the location and nature of the story makes it unique, there’s a familiarity to this type of material that makes much of the film easy to predict where it’s going. Much of that comes as soon as the characters are introduced, including when the family’s young chef Hassan meets the pretty French local who works as a chef at the competing restaurant (played by the inordinately adorable Charlotte Le Bon.) Their growing interest in one another doesn’t exactly create a “Romeo and Juliet” level of conflict–in fact, few others even acknowledge the relationship–but it’s just another one of the elements that seems unnecessarily forced into the story.

In essence, “The Hundred-Foot Journey” attempts to follow “Million Dollar Arm” in bringing together Eastern and Western cultures without making it feel as if “the great white Westerner” is there to “save” the poor Third World exiles by giving them an unprecedented opportunity. In this case, it comes about halfway through the movie when Hassan decides the only way for him to grow as a chef is to get Madame Mallory’s help. Soon, he’s moving to Paris and becoming the hottest young chef in the city, something that’s so contrived that it almost feels like it comes from out of left field.

The biggest hurdle for the film to traverse–and it never quite gets there–is how obvious it is that none of the actors hold a candle to the presence of an Oscar winner like Helen Mirren, yet Madame Mallory is not a particularly challenging role for her to play other than her ability to pull off a passable French accent.

The film also suffers from a storytelling issue I like to call “5-minute conflict,” essentially when a dramatic element is introduced into the story to create tension or suspense, then that conflict is resolved so quickly that it never does its job properly.

It’s hard not to be cynical about the movie though, because Hallstrom uses what’s become the obligatory A.R. Rahman soundtrack that accompanies any movie that involves Indian culture. Like everything else, it’s perfectly fine to create the proper tone for the movie but like everything else, there’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about it.

The Bottom Line:
Maybe I’m just a big old softie, because despite how predictable and obvious this movie made itself, it still managed to win me over and resonate by the end. Maybe it just wore me down by being pleasant enough and a perfectly safe effort all around, and maybe it was the setting that made it feel a lot like Ridley Scott’s “A Good Year.”