Film Review: The Hundred-Foot Journey

Things old and proven in traditional movie storytelling refresh again in this lovely but predictable romantic drama about a family of new Indian immigrants to France who launch a restaurant across the road from an established Michelin one-star staple.

That Lasse Hallström’s charming but predictable The Hundred-Foot Journey—call it cinematic comfort food—makes clichés tasty is just part of the film’s triumph. Ultimately, the lack of surprises becomes moot because this Helen Mirren-starrer delivers a feel-good/looks-great experience that might even seduce a good portion of upscale audiences happier when feasting on edginess and intellectual challenge.

The film works its magic beginning with brief scenes shot in India, where the Kadam family, which has prospered running modest but popular Mumbai restaurants, confronts hardship and loss as weather, political events and death chase them from their livelihoods and country. After a brief stay in the U.K., the Kadams—Papa (Om Puri, a veteran of more than 250 films), his culinarily gifted son Hassan (Manish Dayal) and Hassan’s siblings Mansur (Amit Shah), Mahira (Farzana Dua Elahe), Mukhtar (Dillon Mitra) and Aisha (Aria Pandya)—make their way to France, where they hope to start an Indian restaurant. In their mechanically challenged van loaded with belongings, they head south, ending up with their broken vehicle in the quaint southwestern village of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val near the Pyrénées mountains.

Soon to the rescue of van and family is Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon, co-star of the current Yves Saint Laurent), a beautiful young local who welcomes the Kadams into her home for a much-needed meal. The spread is simple and elegant—local produce like tomatoes, olives, cheeses, bread and olive oil—and it becomes evident that she knows something about food. Also evident is the chemistry between her and Hassan and their mutual passion for cooking. Eager to promote her country’s great cuisine, Marguerite lends Hassam some classic French cookbooks which he begins to devour.

With the van repaired, the family decides to stay in the village and open a restaurant. They find a dilapidated courtyard property on a lovely country road that could be perfect to restore except that right across the road—100 feet, to be exact—lies the elegant Le Saule Pleureur, anointed with one coveted Michelin star and a popular destination for those after classic French cuisine (boeuf bourguignon is a specialty). Papa Kadam is not deterred.

The establishment is run by the cold and austere Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), the longtime owner who’s after that second Michelin star like a pig seeks truffles. Her devoted and ambitious sous-chef is none other than Marguerite.

Meanwhile, after considerable troubles and setbacks, the Kadams manage to open their restaurant, Maison Mumbai, with Hassam as chef. Spices and Hassan’s great Indian food reign and draw traffic. Obviously, this new arrival does not sit well with Madame, as the restaurant’s Bollywood vibe and considerable noise are certainly contrapuntal to the stuffy eating palace across the road.

Nor does the rivalry agree with Marguerite, whose rapport with Hassam had been flirting with romantic potential. Complications ensue when unknown elements within Madame’s kitchen instigate a devastating anti-immigrant action that nearly destroys the Kadams’ restaurant, and the village’s nosy denizens, most notably the Mayor (French veteran Michel Blanc), get involved in the heated culinary war. But don’t assume that Hassam, as he cooks up an Indian storm, puts away those classic French cookbooks or turns the fire down on his ambition and feelings for Marguerite.

Mirren, one of today’s greatest screen actors, doesn’t quite get her arms around the brittle Madame. Her French-inflected English might ring a bit too English for some French-speaking viewers (some character tweaking could have made her a highly convincing, snotty rich Brit ex-pat power behind the esteemed Saule Pleureur). Dayal as Kassam oozes the requisite charm and determination and Puri, no stranger to taking over the screen, does just that.
Hallström too stirs a nice pot, having cut his teeth and whet his appetite for food and French locations on films like Chocolat. Nor does the delicious southern France locale disappoint, but the food-obsessed may wish that even more luscious French and Indian dishes had gotten their close-ups.

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