PHOTO BY AMBLIN ENTERTAINMENT
THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY
Where is it playing?: Park
What's it rated?: PG
What's it worth?: $5.00
Lasse Hallström (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Cider House Rules, Chocolat, Salmon Fishing on the Yemen) directs Steven Knight’s screenplay based on the book by Richard C. Morais about conflict between Madam Mallory (Helen Mirren) and her celebrated French restaurant and the Kadam family that opens a competing restaurant nearby.
Have you seen the cover of a microwavable meal? Sure, you have. This is America. Usually, that cover displays a glossy, rich cornucopia of vibrant flavors, glazed meat products, and succulent side dishes. You buy it for a discounted price, thinking to yourself, “Yum, I’m eating like a king tonight.” Then, you get home; you shove it in that box heater; and, five minutes later, you basically have a shallow jumble of slop that’s scalding hot in one corner and sub zero freezing in the other. It’s inconsistent, unfulfilling, and takes up more of your life than it should. Welcome to The Hundred-Foot Journey.
That seems like a cruel description, but director Lasse Hallström has served up something very akin to a Betty Crocker microwavable brownie of a movie. Narrated in cloying voiceover by protagonist Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal), The Hundred-Foot Journey begins with the story of the Kadam family’s emigration from India to Europe. The explanation, as with most things in this movie, is rushed and cursory. There was “some election or other,” Hassan explains, so a riot ensues at their family’s restaurant and the mother is killed. The family relocates first to England and then a small village in France, where they start up an Indian restaurant 100 feet across the street from a Michelin star-rated French restaurant run by a very uptight Helen Mirren. Let the culture clash, hackneyed romances, and food montages begin!
This is the problem with The Hundred-Foot Journey. It’s a good enough story. Really, anything about food is a great story, and this one has all the ingredients (ugh, forgive the lazy pun). You’ve got a scenic location in France, two masterful actors in Helen Mirren and Om Puri (who plays the patriarch of the Kadam family), and real issues at play concerning cultural differences and tradition. But what does the film focus on? Oh, right. Sensual, golden-hued shots of eggshells in slow motion, and so many taste test epiphanies, the movie’s almost begging to be a shots game—only there’s no begging, or desperation, or deep, profound feelings of any sort.
“Cuisine is not an old, tired marriage; it is a passionate affair,” Helen Mirren’s character insists. She might as well be speaking about her own film. Because, aside from the sumptuous food montages, The Hundred-Foot Journey lacks all the passion and spice it advertises. Like Hallström’s Chocolat, it never amounts to much more than exaggerated food porn, coupled with a French travel ad—pretty and pleasant, but with very little substance. (122 min.)
—Jessica Peña; New Times arts editor