THE HUNDRED FOOT JOURNEY (PG)
A HUNDRED FEET OF CULINARY JOY
You’d better have a good meal before seeing this movie or you’ll find yourself gunning it to the nearest restaurant immediately afterwards for any dish that even closely resembles haute cuisine. The food in this cinematic caviar of indulgence fairly jumped off the screen and right into your mouth. The presentations were an astonishing array of colors, arrangements and tantalizing concoctions guaranteed to produce gastronomic overload. If props could steal a film – then consider it done in The Hundred Foot Journey.
As the story goes… The displaced Kadam family leaves their native India and “stumbles upon” a quaint Southern French village where they decide fate has planted them. They audaciously open a new Indian eatery (Maison Mumbai) opposite Le Saule Pleureur a classical celebrated French restaurant. This elicits an icy response from the owner of said establishment, (Helen Mirren), who moves to sabotage the place before it can open its doors.
Hostilities quickly brew between the two owners and it’s not long before open war is declared. Only one hundred feet of space separates the two restaurants and this feeds the humor that eases the story-line along. Added to this scenario is Hassam Kadam the Indian family’s eldest son - a cooking prodigy with an eye for the beautiful sous-chef across the street. Ooh la, la, let the cooking begin.
This delightful picture is an exotic fusion of East meets West as the two cultures collide over flavors and ideologies for culinary superiority. The plot is refreshingly uncomplicated in an age of movies filled with brain cramping twists and turns. It’s a small film, but it boasts a big heart - liberally sprinkled with humor, romance and the nuances of burgeoning friendships served up on a family friendly platter.
The legendary Helen Mirren stars in what could have been an otherwise ordinary film. Dame Mirren eloquently underplays her part as the caustic Madame Mallory just enough to keep from overpowering the other lesser known talents. She presides in queenly rule over an establishment where food is god, and all else must bow before its beneficence. Watching Mirren act in anything is a never-ending treat, as she proves again in this lighthearted screen frolic.
The supporting cast members were Manish Dayal (Hassam), Om Puri (Papa) and Charlotte Le Bon (Marguerite). Thirty-year-old Manish Dayal holds his own as the young culinary ingénue with ambitions to soar to the top of the cooking world and the good looks to match. But, it was Om Puri who actually stole the scenes right out from under Mirren, (which is no small feat). He locks horns with his opponent like a raging bull facing a toreador in the bull ring. Puri brought a plucky determination to his character that energized the film in the dull spots with a lively jolt. What ensued between the two characters was a verbal sparring match that was laugh-out-loud funny.
Based on the bestselling book of the same name by Richard C. Morais, Lasse Hallstrőm directed (Chocolat), and was no doubt propelled along by the considerable influence of media juggernauts Steven Spielberg & Oprah Winfrey as producers. I wondered what attracted them to such a seemingly ordinary picture which makes no profound statements. Nothing. It was a labor of love by two industry giants who wanted to make a film about a book they enjoyed because they could.
All that said, this sweet little story still manages to squeeze in a subtle message; that life just happens and what may appear to be a disaster could be opportunity in disguise. This film landed in 4th place over the box office weekend, but honestly speaking, I’m not sure it would have gotten any attention without the cache of Spielberg, Winfrey and Mirren at the helm. It could easily have fallen the way of so many pictures of its type - onto the Hollywood B-movie heap of forgotten films. But then again, who cares? At the end of the day it was a two-hour joyful jaunt to the South of France for the cost of a movie ticket that left me with... the warm fuzzies.