Another food movie for summer 2014. It looks like movie makers have given up on showcasing the best bikini bods and have instead turned to encouraging the art of stuffing one’s face. The Hundred-Foot Journey takes classic Indian family cooking and faces it off against classique French cuisine. One restaurant is run by a recently immigrated Indian family while the other, 100 feet away, operates under the turned-up nose of Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren). Both restaurants serve mouth-watering dishes, but there is something about the cooking of young Indian chef, Hassan (Manish Dayal), that says he was born to cook. The Hundred-Foot Journey brings these two restaurants into all-out war, pushing Hassan to improve his skills just so he and his family can stay in competition against their Michelin Star neighbour.
Like Chef, this is one film better seen on a full stomach. The heavily colour-saturated foods introduce the craving, and the passionate menu-related dialogue feeds the temptation to turn your kitchen into an edible art studio. No cakes or sugar-coating in this film – just hearty, creamy, spiced, and seasoned to perfection classic French dishes and Indian delicacies. I have never wanted a sea urchin so desperately.
The characters are also juicy and full of life. Hassan’s Papa (Om Puri) is a head-strong, thrifty idealist who will do what he thinks is right no matter his family’s objections or degree of embarrassment. He’s the kind of father who will call you out in a crowd and continue calling, louder and louder, until you acknowledge your relationship. But Papa is also wholeheartedly wonderful and devoted to his family’s happiness. Most of the film’s joy stems from him in some way or another.
The real essence of the movie, however, is in the idea that memory exists in flavours. The story focuses on the notion that each flavour means something special to someone (like the food critic in Ratatouille whose one bite caused violent, heartbreaking flashbacks). A teaspoon of Bechamel sauce could instantly transport someone to their mother’s kitchen on a sunny Sunday, while the smell of curry can bring someone else back to a bustling market. These can be powerful memories for the desperately homesick.
The Hundred-Foot Journey also has its dark moments, but they are few in number and quick to pass. Hassan goes through ups and downs in his journey to be the best, and his lovely female counterpart, Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), struggles to find a place in his shadow, but their problems are fairly standard and they figure them out before the credits roll. The makers had the courtesy to put the real focus of the film on great food, great company, and the very real possibility of a restaurant accidentally serving poisoned mushrooms.
The story has several highs and lows, which makes it feel a bit long. The characters are enchanting, but only a select four really see development. Even though the plot spans a few years, Hassan’s siblings refuse to grow up or find an education. There is also one very pretty sister whose sole purpose, it would seem, is to enchant future diners into eating at their restaurant. It was great to get a large family feel, but I feel like there was missed opportunity to engage the main characters with some of the supporters.
The Hundred-Foot Journey is one hundred percent eye candy. From the food, to the spectacular French location, to the handsome cast, it is a visual meal. Helen Mirren is also her stiff yet charming self, conveying a full monologue of emotions with the sole use of the back of her head. There is some French spoken in the film with no subtitles, but I think the message gets across nonetheless. For one last happy hurrah in the summer lineup, The Hundred-Foot Journey deserves 7.5 Indian-inspired boeuf bourguignons out of 10.