It seems like there has been an awful lot of effort put into creating The Hundred-Foot Journey. From the well-lit and striking cinematography, the gorgeous French and Indian locations and the thumping soundtrack helmed by the award winning A.R. Rahman (Slumdog Millionaire), it is clear that the creative team behind the film has tried really hard to create a beautiful ‘food porn’ movie about crossing cultural divides. Of course, the key word here is tried. Although there sits a strong pool of talent, both behind and in front of the camera, The Hundred-Foot Journey is an all too predictable tale that, whilst having some sensitive and sincere moments, ultimately fails to satisfy as a hearty and filling meal.
The Hundred-Foot Journey is a familiar movie recipe, assembling the tasty and traditional ingredients of compassion, romance and good taste to prepare a dramatic comfort food feast for the eyes. Based on the bestselling Richard C. Morais novel, it is the story of two feuding restaurants – Maison Mumbai owned and operated by the proud and accomplished Kadam family, headed by the stubborn Papa (Om Puri) along with his son Hassan (Manish Dayal), and the acclaimed and renowned one Michelin Star Le Saule Pleureur, run by the forbiddingly proper and stiff upper-lipped Madame Mallory (an impressively sour Helen Mirren). Of course, the story wouldn’t be interesting if it was just about the friendly rivalry between the two, so Journey is seasoned with a dash of romance, cross-cultural conflict and a sense of triumph and identity.
Produced jointly by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey and directed by perennially ‘nice’ director Lasse Hallström (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Cider House Rules, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Chocolat), Journey’s menu elaborately tries to provoke laughter, emotion and hungry whet appetites from its viewers, all whilst trying to develop an understanding of cultural conflict and difference. In doing so, the film often ends up trying too hard to do too much. Instead of presenting a faithful adaptation of the fairly successful and much loved novel, writer Steven Knight’s (Locke, Eastern Promises) screenplay kneads too many story threads together, leaving a doughy and saccharin taste in viewers’ mouths. The multiple story lines leave a narrative imbalance within the film’s overall plot, with the film racing through plot points at breakneck speed, leaving little time for story and development.
None of the characters are particularly well developed here, with all of them lacking in terms of motivation and emotion. Therefore, as a viewer, you are left somewhat unconvinced when the characters achieve success or have a sudden change of heart. Likewise, whilst visually everything is appealing to the eye (and stomach!) there is a real spice missing in the film’s discussion of food and passion. Whilst cinematographer Linus Sandgren wonderfully shoots the food in swishy and deliberate slo-mo shots to highlight its best angles, there is a clear and perhaps even at times intentional disconnect between what we are seeing and the way the characters are feeling.
Supposedly inspired by the tantalizing spices, herbs and beautiful fresh produce before them, very little time is spent enjoying the food (spare one of the more emotional moments in the film’s third act), making all the supposed passion a bitter pill to swallow. In fact, it is the film’s repeated assertions that ‘food is memories’ and breathless declarations about cooking being a portal to the soul, whilst simultaneously doing the opposite, that is perhaps one of most frustrating things about this movie, especially in light of the hard work and great performances of its cast.
Both Mirren and Dayal are impressive in their turns here and have a wonderful Cat-and-Mouse chemistry, which serves their relationship well, particularly in the beginning of the film. As a stiff, snarly and snappy appreciator of fine cuisine, Madame Mallory’s desire to keep the last remnants of French culture alive is admirable. Whilst her motivations for doing so (a throwaway line about being a widow) are less developed, Mirren’s presence as Madame Mallory is a commanding performance and she demands attention every time she is on screen.
Alongside the Dame, Dayal’s keen and feeling performance shows a beautiful, naïve curiosity and restraint, anchoring Mirren’s Mallory from being an overreaching villain. Dayal has more than his fair share of script to work with, but his graceful and charismatic performance brings a heart to even the clumsiest of plot threads, like his romance with Mallory’s sous-chef, Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon). Indian screen legend Puri also finds a similar foothold as the patriarch of the Kadam family, his benevolent stubbornness is endearing and his quarrels with Mirren bring a delightful cheek to the screen.
The Hundred-Foot Journey isn’t necessarily a bad film, but it’s not a particular good one either; and therein lies the problem. With the right balance of flavours, The Hundred-Foot Journey could easily have been a Three Michelin star fine dining culinary experience for the eyes and mind. However, it seems content on being comfortably familiar and easy to digest Sunday afternoon pub fare. Instead of bringing us a passionate and soulful story about the culture-crossing, universal power and lure of food and cuisine, Hallström pulls a ‘family favourite’ from his repertoire and cooks up a movie whose light, fluffy texture and sugary overtone leaves the audience wishing they would turn the heat right up.
THE REEL SCORE: 6/10