‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Stars: Helen Mirren, Manish Dayal
2 (out of 5) Globes
“The Hundred-Foot Journey” is OK food porn, but it really belongs to another genre: the overly-tasteful Lasse Hallstrom lit adaptation. From “My Life as a Dog” to “The Cider House Rules” to “The Shipping News” to the thrillingly titled “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” (with a couple Nicholas Sparks movies in there too), the director has created a one-man cottage industry of harmless light dramas with bits of light jokes and some light life lessons. They’re so offense-free they’re hard to get worked up over, unless they’re “Chocolat.”
Indeed, there’s not much heaviness in “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” whose central squabble exists only in the minds of its characters. Manish Dayal plays Hassan, a young Indian chef forced by circumstances and his stubborn father (Om Puri) to ply his considerable trade in greener pastures. They wind up in a tiny part of France, right across a rocky street from an esteemed gourmet restaurant that boasts an actual Michelin star.
Its owner is Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), and she immediately cocks a casually racist eyebrow at her new neighbors. She’s old school, serving up traditional, tiny dishes to an elite clientele. Meanwhile, Hassan cooks extravagant, spice-drenched meals from their own country. It’s clear there’s a clash. Actually, it’s not. These are dramatically different forms of both cuisine and restauranteuring — one snooty and pricey, the other populist and affordable, in addition to being (and this can't be understated) completely different kinds of food entirely. There’s no real competition here, and yet Mallory and Puri’s dad go to war, trying to destroy each other for no reason other than without it there’d be no conflict.
“The Hundred-Foot Journey” is so thin it could only be based on a true story. But it’s not. It’s from a novel seized upon by Oprah (of course). Perhaps author Richard C. Morais describes food well, as Hallstrom only moderately pores over the many dishes. He prefers to watch people making tasting faces, then swooning melodramatically. Variety is not the spice of life here, and the story runs out of story in the second half, when the war abruptly ends — as though it ever needed waged at all. Even the racism is quickly felled, and what’s left is really an hour of Spielbergian false endings — appropriate as Spielberg is one of the producers. The film has far less going on in it than Steven Knight's last screenplay, "Locke," and that was set entirely inside and just outside of a moving car.
Admittedly this isn't without its pleasures. All the actors are ideal, including Charlotte Le Bon as a spunkier twist on the usual brittle French hottie. The infallible Helen Mirren adds vulnerability to her own ice queen, but it’s most fun watching her try to maintain a regal poise while descending into a petty duel. She and Puri — who busies himself with an endearing bluster — make a nice odd couple. At times this nothing movie cruises by on a low hum of nice performances, nice-looking food you can’t eat and general nice niceness, even if it'll quickly make even the snobbiest aesthete want to dirty themselves after with some horrific Michael Bay sleaze.
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