Entertaining but Predictable
Director Lasse Hallström returns to the world of food with his cinematic adaptation of Richard C. Marais’ novel, The Hundred-Foot Journey, a mildly entertaining yet disappointingly predictable stewpot of ambition, romance, and redemption seasoned with the joys of returning home.
The film, co-produced by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, is set in a charming little village in the French countryside where the Kadam family, led by the family patriarch Papa (Om Puri), opens an ethnic restaurant with hopes of enticing the locals with hand-made traditional Indian dishes.
The family soon runs up against uptight Mallory (Helen Mirren), the owner of an upscale white-linen rival restaurant across the street (literally a hundred feet away), who will stop at nothing -- including sabotage and underhanded tactics -- to scare the family away. Mallory sees the down-home family-style Maison Mumbai as an unsophisticated threat to her efforts of acquiring a second Michelin star, the hallmark of fine dining quality around the world.
But Mallory’s bull-headed resolve is eventually challenged by Papa’s eldest son, Hassan (Manish Dayal) whose cooking skills impress the hoity-toity restaurateur. Armed with a bequeathed quiver of magic old-country Indian spices, and secretly aided by Mallory’s sous chef Marguerite (Charlotte LeBon), Hassan soon becomes the popular star of Maison Mumbai. Sooner or later Mallory may be forced to confront Hassan and his growing culinary skills.
Visually, Hallström is in his element, bathing the breathtaking Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val (standing in for Lumiere) countryside in the heavenly glow of God’s light. The man clearly knows where to put the camera for a great-looking shot. With The Hundred-Foot Journey, he follows his own lead from 2000’s Chocolat with another sensual symphony of culinary delights.
All five senses are tickled by the deliciously choreographed festival of whisking, chopping, and blending over fresh-baked breads and bubbling sauces. The number of tight shots on skilled fingers expertly sprinkling fine powders and grainy spices is only surpassed by Hallström’s close-ups on the angelic face of relative newcomer LeBon. Her soulful eyes and warm presence play quite nicely against Mallory’s prickly comportment. We can hope to see more of her in the coming months.
Hallström rarely fails to coax the most from his cast, and that's certainly the case here. Though the relationships often feel embarrassingly contrived and even overtly melodramatic at times (credit screenwriter Steven Knight for ensuring those in the back row understand the emotional intensity of every scene), we believe in the deep friendships shared by the characters. Sure, we see the hook-ups coming from a mile away, and the dialogue never even sniffs smart, but the winning performances make the ride a mostly enjoyable one.
However, the third act isn’t nearly as satisfying. Hallström seems to lose his sense of pacing and the tone gets all out of whack as the tacked-on subplot of Hassan’s career as a star chef in Paris becomes the story’s main focus. Though it doesn’t wreck the entire film, we curiously long for that simple but familiar by-the-recipe plot.
(Released by Walt Disney Motion Pictures and rated “PG” for thematic elements, some violence, language and brief sensuality.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.