“The Hundred-Foot Journey” is a food movie, so you can expect a lot of scenes featuring beautiful and tasty-looking food paired with beautiful and tasty-looking sequences of it being delicately prepared, oftentimes with sunrays glowing through a nearby window. To top things off, the movie is set in a remote French town surrounded by four green hills, where fireworks seem to go off every other week. The picture is pretty to look at and painless to watch, but in the end, there isn’t much great about it.
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom (“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”), “The Hundred Foot-Journey” is primarily about the clash of two food cultures: Indian and classic French. An Indian family decides to try its luck at the restaurant game in Europe after bad luck befalls them in their homeland. They’re adding a little spice to this old, little French town.
Of course, it isn’t going to be easy: They set up shop right across the street from an upscale French restaurant run by the strict and curmudgeonly Madam Mallory (Helen Mirren), who doesn’t much care for the competition or the different cuisine. She’s already won a Michelin star but wants to win another.
“The Hundred-Foot Journey” — the two restaurants are precisely a hundred feet apart from one another — is a perfectly pleasant movie to watch. Even with its “battle of the restaurants” premise, it stays on its best behavior. Unfortunately, it never rises to anything great, either.
The story flatlines for the most part; Steven Knight’s screenplay goes through the motions, hitting its cliché beats. “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” may have suffered from a lackluster third act, but the first two-thirds had a quirky, easygoing energy to it that made it fun to watch. “Hundred-Foot” doesn’t contain that same energy.
Om Puri is entertaining to watch as the wise, prideful father and manager of the Indian restaurant, while Mirren is a master at playing the stubborn and uptight Madam Mallory.
The movie also features two fresh-faced young‘uns: Hassan (Manish Dayal), the main chef for the Indian restaurant and son of Puri’s character; and Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), the sous chef of Madam Mallory, who eventually fall in love. The two relative newcomers do their best, but they lack a breezy, back-and-forth chemistry.
Around the halfway point in “Hundred-Foot,” the story changes rather drastically, from a rival-restaurant picture to a “young chef in the big city” one. Circumstances lead Hassan to become an apprentice of Madam Mallory — his spice-infused cuisine warms her icy heart — and after earning her another Michelin star, he goes to Paris to work in one of those sleek, modern, food clubs where cooking is treated more like a science than an art.
It’s at this point that the picture goes from being bland but pleasant to laborious and sappy. Everything begins to feel drawn out, as if Hallstrom thinks that the audience doesn’t know how the story’s going to conclude. Not only that, the movie becomes increasingly heavy-handed: Its themes of family and fate are handled with the subtly of a meat tenderizer. And, finally, while Hallstrom applies the sappiness sparingly during the first half, for whatever reason he decides to dump the entire container of it onto the second.
And, yet, “The Hundred-Foot Journey” is tolerable, mainly because of the many loving shots of food. The film not only made me hungry but angry that my own fridge wasn’t stocked with gourmet French and Indian food when I got home.