Directed by: Lasse Hallström.
Written by: Steven Knight based on the book by Richard C. Morais.
Starring: Helen Mirren (Madame Mallory), Om Puri (Papa), Manish Dayal (Hassan), Charlotte Le Bon (Marguerite), Amit Shah (Mansur), Farzana Dua Elahe (Mahira), Dillon Mitra (Mukthar), Aria Pandya (Aisha), Michel Blanc (Mayor), Clément Sibony (Jean-Pierre), Vincent Elbaz (Paul), Juhi Chawla (Mama), Alban Aumard (Marcel).
The filmmakers who made The Hundred-Foot Journey certainly know their audience. This is one of those films – like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel or Chocolat that is aimed at an older audience, and provides them a pleasant, scenic movie that doesn’t challenge at all, but makes them leave the theater feeling good. It would take a complete cynic to hate a film like this – but it would also take someone far more sentimental than me to truly like the film either. Watching it is a pleasant experience, but not much else. There’s not much in the way of plot or conflict in the film – and the film hits each and every base you expect it to after having seen the preview. There are a few moments where the film seems to edging towards something more interesting, but then it almost immediately backs off. It is by no means a bad movie, but it’s one I am having trouble working up any real enthusiasm for.
The story is about an Indian family who run a restaurant, who after a tragic fire that kills the mother, decide to immigrate to Europe. They try London, but don’t like it much. They decide to pile into an old van and drive through France to find the perfect spot for their new restaurant. Papa (Om Puri) thinks he has found it in a small village – which just happens to be right across the street (100 feet to be exact) from a highly thought of, traditional French restaurant with a Michelin star – run by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren). The rest of the family thinks he is crazy – but he will not be dissuaded. The locals have never tried Indian food before, he reasons, but once they do they will love it. Especially because he believes his son Hassan (Manish Dayal) is the best Indian Chef in Europe. He may well be right.
The main character in the film really is Hassan – and his journey from his humble beginnings into a great chef. He already knows how to cook Indian food – better than just about anyone else – but he also wants to cook French food. He meets Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) – a Sous Chef at Madame Mallory’s restaurant, and although they are “sworn enemies” – the two bonds – and Marguerite gives him some French cookbooks from him to learn from. He is, of course, a natural. While Hassan and Marguerite have a gentle love story/rivalry forming, Papa and Madame Mallory go to war. To him, she’s a stick in the mud, who needs to lighten up. To her, he’s as brash and loud as his music is. The two hate each other – so you know what’s going to happen, right?
The film was directed by Lasse Hallstrom, who seems to specialize in this sort of movie – beautiful films, that don’t do much in the way of challenging the audience. Thankfully, we’re out of that period when somehow his films – like The Cider House Rules and Chocolat – somehow became Oscar players, and now he makes these movies that are gentle, slightly funny – often set in beautiful locations, where he uses soft lighting to make them look even more beautiful. There are a few moments where the movie looks like it may be headed in a more challenging direction – the locals who don’t like the new family because they’re not French, Papa getting made at a magazine title about Hassan – but the movie dispenses with these quickly. You don’t want reality to come in too much in a movie like this. It may ruin the effect. Oddly, the film was written by Steven Knight – but it must have been a money job for him. There is nothing like the work he has done for films like Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises or Locke. The producers are Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey – which isn’t surprising. The film is as sentimental as Spielberg haters (wrongly) claim his films are, and the film is based on the type of book that Oprah’s book club was made for.
The performances, like the movie, are fine. Helen Mirren has great fun affecting a French accent and going over the top as Madame Mallory. She is terrific actress, capable of better, but she’s not given much of a chance in the movie. She starts as a caricature, and gets a little depth as it moves along, but not much. Om Puri, who has gone back and forth between Bollywood films and these types of films from Hollywood (or England). He’s great fun as Papa – but like Mirren, he’s basically a caricature. Dayal is fine in the lead role of Hassan – although I never quite bought his late film, temporary conversion.
The film is precisely what you expect it to be from seeing the preview. If it’s your type of film, I cannot imagine you not liking it. If however, these films usually make you cringe, well, get ready to cringe.