0

‘Hundred-Foot Journey’: Short trip to food porn

Share Button

REVIEW WRITTEN BY NATHAN LERNER  
For 21st Century Media

Sectarian mob violence, xenophobia, and entrepreneurial Darwinism are serious subjects. They hardly seem like fodder for a frothy, light comedy. Despite the presence of these troubling plot elements, “The Hundred-Foot Journey” has received a glossy treatment by Lasse Hallström and Disney Pictures.
As the film opens, the Kadam family is operating a successful family restaurant in Mumbai. The mother (Bollywood actress, Juhi Chawla, digitally aged) lovingly teaches her young son, Hasaan (Rohan Chand as a boy), cooking secrets. The boy displays evidence of being a culinary prodigy.
Apparently spurred by electoral tensions, a rampaging mob storms the restaurant. They burn it down with the family matriarch horribly immolated in the fire. The film is disconcertingly unclear on what prompted the mob to attack the Kadam’s restaurant.
Papa (Om Puri) decides that the family should leave India. So, Papa; his three sons, Hasaan (Manish Dayal as a young  adult), Mansur (Amit Shah), and Mukthar (Dillon Mitra); and two daughters, Mahira (Farzana Dua Elahe) and Aisha (Aria Pandya) move to England. There, the Kadams decamp under the flight path for Heathrow Airport. The noise pollution, in conjunction with the unpleasant climate, prompts the Kadam family to pick up stakes again.
They wander directionless in a beat-up van through southern France. The vehicle breaks down on a hill in the Midi-Pyrenees, overlooking the provincial village of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val. Papa decrees that this is an omen. The family will settle here.
Of course, Papa is keen on opening a restaurant and resurrecting the family business. He finds that there is a recently vacated restaurant in the town and proposes to purchase it. His children protest, citing the fact that the French have their own cuisine and have no antecedent familiarity with Indian food. No matter-Papa contends that it their family’s obligation to introduce Indian delectations to the villagers. Undaunted by the caveats of his children, Papa buys the abandoned property and opens Maison Mumbai. He erects a faux facade of the Taj Mahal out front.

This image released by DreamWorks II shows Helen Mirren in a scene from “The Hundred-Foot Journey.” (AP Photo/François Duhamel, DreamWorks II)

This image released by DreamWorks II shows Helen Mirren in a scene from “The Hundred-Foot Journey.” (AP Photo/François Duhamel, DreamWorks II)

There is an immediate problem. Directly across the road is a well-established restaurant, Le Saule Pleureur.  Operated by the imperious Madame Mallory (Dame Helen Mirren), it features classic French haute cuisine and starched, white tablecloths. The venue has already earned a Michelin star and is vying for a second.
Of course, Madame Mallory resents the arrival of new competition, sniffing haughtily, “Who are zees people?”  Madame Mallory harangues the town mayor (Michel Blanc) about Maison Mumbai, citing putative violations of zoning laws and other arcane regulations. In an effort to squelch the new restaurant, Madame Mallory resorts to other mean-spirited and ruthless tactics.
In addition to the implacable Madame Mallory, the Kadam family must contend with the ethnocentric sensibilities and the overt racism of certain residents. The film depicts the ugly underside of the quaint, postcard-pretty village.
Hassan meets Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), an attractive sous chef, who works for Madame Mallory. They share a keen interest in cooking, but harbor certain professional jealousies. You can probably guess where their relationship is headed.
Of course, Mirren is her usual superb self as the frosty, often nasty proprietress. Mirren can scrunch her face or arch her back in way that renders dialogue unnecessary. To take advantage of Mirren’s presence in the cast, the scope of her character in the book is expanded considerably. Veteran Indian character actor, Om Puri, is well-cast as her rival. As bitter arch-enemies, the two share some wonderful scenes together.

Screen capture of the movie video trailer for "The Hundred Foot Journey" at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yEO1TWeM5JU

Screen capture of the movie video trailer for “The Hundred Foot Journey” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yEO1TWeM5JU

The film boasts an array of striking food shots. This includes chicken tikka masala, boeuf bourguinon, roasted wild bird stuffed with truffles, and a perfectly-prepared omelette. To add verisimilitude to their roles as chefs, actors Dayal and LeBon took cooking classes.
A.R. Rahman (“Slumdog Millionaire,” “127 Hours”) contributes another strong score. The clash of cultures is reflected in the selection of music. There are multiple songs by Rahman and other Indian composers. These are augmented by the stirring French national anthem, “La Marseillaise,” and other Francophilic standards as “La Vie En Rose,” Edith Piaf’s signature tune, and Charles Azvanour’s, “Yesterday When I Was Young.”
The film derives from an international best-seller of the same name by Richard C. Morais. Screenwriter, Steven Knight, has crafted a screenplay with some engaging aspects. He certainly isn’t shy about interjecting hackneyed homilies like, “Food is memories” into the film. The screenplay is decidedly atypical of Knight’s previous works. His screenplays for “Dirty Pretty Things,” “Eastern Promises,” “Closed Circuit,” and most recently, “Locke” were far grittier than the one that he wrote for this film.
However, I suspect that ultimately it is Lasse Hallström, who is culpable for the edentulous nature of the film. The director frequently strips his films of edge in favor of infusing them with a fairy tale felicity.
Courtesy of strong performances and the sensory pleasures of gastro-porn, “The Hundred-Foot Journey” transcends its tonal problems.
“The Hundred-Foot Journey”
*** PG (for thematic elements, some violence, language and brief sensuality) 122 minutes
        
Nathan Lerner welcomes feedback at lernerprose@gmail.com.

Share Button

ticket