I missed Jon Favreau’s Chef in theaters earlier this year, but at least I got to experience one nice film about family that happens to feature exquisite dishes that stirred my stomach. From what I’ve heard, Chef put the food front and center. The Hundred-Foot Journey does that to its characters. But that doesn’t mean the food isn’t there. Oh it’s there, and I never thought I would say that a movie made me crave Indian food. But it did.
Here’s the story. After being driven out of India by certain circumstances, Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal) and his family find themselves in France. Miraculously, they discover they can put their cooking skills to good use when they find a perfect area to open their restaurant. Here’s the problem. The building happens to be one hundred feet away from a French restaurant which already attends to all the wealthy and fanciful. And the restaurant’s owner, Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), isn’t about to accept new competition. Indian competition at that. But that isn’t it. There’s also the boy meets girl story mixed with the two seeming enemies coming together at last. Cliche after cliche. But despite its flaws, I found this to be a very nice and heartwarming surprise of a movie.
The posters would have you believe that Helen Mirran is the star of this movie, placing her front and center because she is the only one of merit, but the real star of the movie is Manish Dayal. He plays the leader of the family, and by leader I mean the son that really takes the initiative and is treated as the main character of the movie. He’s a good chef, a great one actually, and throughout the course of the movie I realized that I did want him to succeed, which is a testament to Dayal’s performance. Charlotte Le Bon does a good job as well as a chef working for Madame Mallory who is just striving to be the best that she can be at her craft. Of course, the two fall for each other, but it isn’t the sappy and melodramatic camp fest it could have been. Instead, these two mostly unknown performers make the relationship something to root for. Their scenes together inside the kitchen really struck me as feeling like a live action version of Ratatouille. I think I am the only critic to make that comparison but while watching the film I just couldn’t help but notice the resemblance.
Some people will see the movie because they know it’s about cooking and some (like me) will see it because they try to see most movies that release. Then there is the majority of the audience that will see the movie just because they see Helen Mirran’s face on the poster and the PG rating. Madame Mallory, Mirran’s character, starts off a bit rocky and becomes one of the movie’s flaws. For the most part, she feels like a wooden villain with no back story and no real purpose but to be an antagonist against our heroes and serve as the way for our two potential lovers to meet. As the movie progresses though, her character becomes better realized and things start to come to light and the issue is easy to be brushed aside. Mirran has been at this for a long time and it’s nothing to say that she turns in a terrific performance. She’s funny sometimes and other times just downright easy to hate.
But this shouldn’t be marketed as a Helen Mirran movie. She’s in it, but she isn’t the star. This movie belongs to Manish Dayal. He gives a nice and subdued performance that really captures the essence of what his character is feeling and how we should feel as well. Om Puri gives some strong supporting work as Hassan’s father who serves as the owner of the restaurant. He wants the best for his restaurant and his family and if that means going head to head with Madame Mallory then so be it. The scenes and buildup between the two is handled rather well in these performers’ hands.
The movie isn’t perfect though. It runs at 122 mins and it feels longer. It’s a slow moving journey and I think fifteen or twenty minutes could have been trimmed out and nothing would have been lost. The script by Steven Knight (director/screenwriter of Locke) is just sort of average and it is, in fact, pretty predictable. That being said, the direction by Lasse Halstrom (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape) is pretty fluent and the performances really take the run of the mill script and make it something that counts.
This is a light movie. It’s rated PG, so it is safe to take the younger ones too, but of course they will be wanting to see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles this weekend. God help them. And honestly, I can’t see many kids being into this movie. It’s slow paced and about “big people stuff,” but it’s good. Nothing profound or game changing, but then again not all movies need to be. The Hundred-Foot Journey is a nice little surprise of a movie that hits some right notes. When the Kadam family is cooking its Indian meals whilst the catchy Indian music thumps in the background, I dare you not to get somewhat into it.
The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014) 122 mins Rated PG for thematic elements, some violence, language, and brief sensuality Cast: Manish Dayal, Charlotte Le Bon, Helen Mirran, Om Puri Writer: Steven Knight Director: Lasse Halstrom
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