“The Hundred-Foot Journey” goes a surprising number of places for such a short trip. It’s a love story, a story about culture clash, an underdog success story, and a movie that celebrates food—albeit one that devolves into a food fight at one point, figuratively speaking.
But this little film has heart. How can it not, being executive produced by the reunited team of Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey? Everybody in the audience gets a box of warm fuzzies.
Director Lasse Hallström (“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”) is no stranger to films that celebrate food. His “Chocolat” (2000) was among those first-wave attempts to incorporate the transformative properties of delicious concoctions into the narrative. In fact, there are a few similarities to “The Hundred Foot Journey.” Both films focus on characters new to a conservative, provincial French town the plot revolves around the way that the new arrivals gradually win everyone over because of the food that they make.
Adapted from Richard C. Morais’ 2010 novel, “The Hundred-Foot Journey” features Helen Mirren as Madame Mallory, a widow who operates an haute cuisine restaurant that has earned a single Michelin star, and she wants another. Soon, as the audience sees, her life will radically change when an Indian family buys the shuttered, former restaurant one hundred feet across the road from her.
When we’re first introduced to the Kadam family, we vicariously experience their great tragedy when their Mumbai restaurant is firebombed by an angry mob after an election, and their cook—the matriarch of the family—is killed. So they leave India for a new start in London, where Indian cooking is so appreciated that chicken tikka masala is the national dish. But Papa Kadam (Om Puri) pronounces London no place for serious restaurateurs because the quality of vegetables is so poor. So the family picks up and relocates again to the mainland, and coming, as happened in “Chocolat,” to a little village by chance. Their van broke down, but a young French woman (Charlotte Le Bon) helped them and put them up in her apartment for the night. And her offer of vegetables and cheese is enough to convince Papa Kadam that they can find the quality ingredients they need right here in order to open a new restaurant.
That good Samaritan, as it turns out, is the sous chef at the Le Saule Pleurer, and that puts her in an awkward position of being both an advocate for the new people and suddenly a competitor, once the Maison Mumbai opens. In no time at all the new restaurant begins to siphon some of their business because of the father’s intercepting and charming people on the road who were headed to the more established restaurant.
But it’s not just the father’s charm. His second-oldest son, Hassan (Manish Dayal) is a talented cook who worked closely with his mother to learn all her secrets. And when Madame Mallory tastes a dish he brings over as a peace offering, she knows that she is in trouble, though her response is to throw the rest of the dish into the trash.
What makes the film successful is that the “journey” does involve so much, and metaphorically it serves to remind audiences that sometimes taking a few steps can lead to new attitudes and even reconciliation. I won’t say that every character has a journey in this film, but certainly the four main actors have arcs to follow and explore. Mirren is her usual stunning self, acting with understated believability, but Puri is a worthy opposite. Same with little-known actors who play the two main chefs in the film. And despite a second-act sag that’s almost as plodding as much of what we saw in another culture-clash film, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” “The Hundred-Foot Journey” is an entertaining, feel-good movie that can make a difference, if you let it.
“The Hundred-Foot Journey” has a runtime of 122 minutes and is rated PG for “thematic elements, some violence, language and brief sensuality.”
“The Hundred-Foot Journey” is presented in 2.39:1 widescreen, and though there’s enough filmic grain to add texture, the level of detail is strong and the colors are bright. Black levels are modulated so that detail doesn’t get lost in shadows except for one crucial scene when it’s so darned dark that you can’t see anything. Maybe that’s how the film got it’s PG rating.
The featured audio is the industry-standard English DTS-HD MA 5.1, with an English Descriptive 2.0 track and additional audio options in French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1. I wouldn’t call it an immersive soundtrack, but there’s enough ambient sound coming out of the rear speakers to make the place come alive. Subtitles are in English SDH, French and Spanish.
The bonus features seem mostly token. We get Spielberg and Winfrey sitting together talking about the project and the last time they worked together (“The Color Purple”), and there’s a making-of feature that charts the usual territory: locations, screenplay, casting, etc. The only other extras are a diary-style “On Set with Oprah Winfrey” and a recipe for coconut chicken. Though it’s not prominently featured in the film, it’s almost become a tradition for food-related movies to provide at least one recipe.
This food movie holds its own, largely because the characters are engaging and there’s more than a single journey here. Among the main characters there are no antagonists—just misunderstood people—and that too adds interest. “The Hundred-Foot Journey” doesn’t celebrate the magical properties of food as much as it does the magical ability of humans to heal themselves, and each other.