Directed by: Lasse Hallstrom
Premise: An aspiring chef and his family emigrate from India to a small town in France. They open a restaurant and come into conflict with the owner of a high class local eatery.
What Works: Lasse Hallstrom is a filmmaker known for making romantic movies whose stories frequently involve conflicts between people of different cultures or backgrounds such as Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Chocolat, and The Cider House Rules and his films tend to be charming, funny, and otherwise affable. The Hundred Foot Journey is consistent with Hallstrom’s other movies and it has many of the same appeals. The film has a generally good nature about it and like Chocolat it mixes a love story with cooking and culture. The film is at its best when it emphasizes that triangulation of elements and the cooking sequences are often shot and edited with a lot of energy and utilize visuals and cinematic techniques that emphasize the appeal of gourmet food. The title of The Hundred Foot Journey refers to the physical distance between the two competing restaurants and the movie is about the characters gradually traversing that distance both literally and figuratively. The movie isn’t especially deep but it is very earnest and The Hundred Foot Journey’s lack of cynicism makes it enjoyable. The movie is anchored by the performances of its two senior actors. Om Puri plays the father of the Indian family; Puri is an actor whose career has spanned decades but he is relatively unknown to American audiences. He is very good as the patriarch of a family that has lost nearly everything and is searching for a new home. The character is a hardheaded and intelligent man but underneath that confidence is someone who is lost and Puri injects the father with soft, sympathetic moments that deepen the character. The Hundred Foot Journey also stars Helen Mirren as the owner of a posh French restaurant. At first her character comes across as a stock villain but the script pushes her to a point in which she is forced to account for her prejudice and the way the film deals with her transformation is one of its most outstanding qualities.
What Doesn’t: As fun as it is to watch the central cast of The Hundred Foot Journey, the supporting roles are not characterized nearly as well. The filmmakers don’t do much to distinguish the Indian family members and even the leads take a while to emerge as the focus of the story. There is also a strange tension in The Hundred Foot Journey with regard to ethnic and nationalistic stereotypes. This is a movie about people of different backgrounds conflicting and eventually overcoming their prejudices and cultural differences but at the same time the moviemakers employ some of those stereotypes. Helen Mirren’s character is a rude Frenchwoman and her understudy, played by Charlotte Le Bon, has a lot of the traits of a European caricature. The immigrant family also fulfills some Indian stereotypes, such as the frugal and domineering father, and there is a hint of the kind of eastern exoticism seen on gross display in movies like Eat Pray Love. To the credit of The Hundred Foot Journey, the movie mostly overcomes the stereotypes or pokes fun at them in a goodhearted way but its solutions to cross-cultural conflict are always very simplistic. The film moves along pretty well for the first two-thirds of its running time but in its final portion The Hundred Foot Journey runs out of steam. After Mirren and Puri’s characters reconcile the story reaches its organic conclusion but the filmmakers advance the son’s story, sending him to Paris. At this point the moviemakers lose their focus and the story has nothing at stake. The picture ends well enough but its length becomes noticeable.
Bottom Line: The Hundred Foot Journey is a feel good movie and its filmmakers succeed in creating exactly that. The movie is lightweight and it runs a little long but it is so earnest in its intentions and humane with its characters that it will win over its audience.
Episode: #507 (September 7, 2014)