Throughout his career director Lasse Hallstrom’s film fall into the hit or miss category. His films Chocolat, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape were loved whereas Casanova, Something to Talk About, Safe Haven, and Dear John were panned. The latest is The Hundred-Foot Journey and seems to fall somewhere in the middle.
The Kadam family runs their own restaurant in India. After a post-election riot occurs and a fire not only destroys it, but also results in the death of the matriarch (Juhi Chawla), and real cooking talent of the family, the Kadam’s hit the road looking for somewhere to start anew.
After a false start in England they end up driving in a van through the countryside of South France. When they all almost die due to failed brakes and are forced to stay a while in a small town called Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val while the van is being repaired, Papa Kadam (Om Puri – Wolf, Ghandi) is taken by a rundown restaurant/property that is for sale. He is not discouraged by the fact that it is just across the street (hence the hundred-foot of the title) from a fine restaurant named Le Saule Pleureur run by the acerbic widow, Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren – The Queen, The Debt), that has been awarded one Michelin star rating.
Stubborn Papa wins out that Kadam prepare to open their restaurant, Maison Mumbai. Its success relies on Papa’s marketing skills and the cooking of middle son, Hassan (Manish Dayal – The Sorcerer’s Apprentice), who learned how to cook at the hands of his mother. Though he has no formal training Hassan has a gift. Soon because of the restaurant’s moderate success and the cultural differences Madame Mallory is doing her darnedest to make sure the Indian restaurant goes out of business.
While all this is going on Hassan is coming into his own as a chef with a little help from his new friend, Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon – Yves Saint Laurent), who works as a sous-chef across the street, and that has not escaped the attention of Madame Mallory. Soon Hassan finds himself having to make a decision that will take him away from his family and in direct competition with Marguerite, who he has developed feelings for.
Having forged a career based on sentimental films, Hallstrom is not going to change now and I’m not sure I want him to as he does bring some good work to the screen. With his films you know you are going to get a product that is one part warmth and one part tear jerker. At times the fromage is to be found not only in the food, but on the screen. It has been the downfall of many a Hallstrom film though in this one he slightly reins it in not allowing it to completely overtake things.
Another aspect that threw me off a little was the pacing. It had a nice slow pace for the most part and then all of a sudden in the last third it became an entirely different film. Not sure what that was about.
The three reasons to see the film are Helen Mirren, Om Puri and the exquisite photography of food and the French countryside. Unfortunately both Mirren and Puri are not in the film as much as they should have been. And while I understand why it is still a shame.
Fans of romantic comedies and Helen Mirren should find enough in Lasstrom’s film to sink their teeth into and enjoy. There is enough funny moments coupled with a nice set of people falling in love tales to keep you invested. If you are not a fan of the multitude of summer action adventure films that invariably dominate the multi-plexes at this time of year then this is an adequate alternative.
My last bit of advice is before going to see this film make sure you have eaten or else you will want to eat your hat sitting there watching all the scenes of cooking and delicious looking food that happen.