The Hundred-Foot Journey is a by the numbers, yet charming, handsome, and well-acted dramedy that the whole family can enjoy.
The Hundred-Foot Journey tells the story of Hassan Kadam, who at an early age discovers he has a nose for good food and a passion for cooking. Young Hassan (Manish Dayal) and his family experience personal tragedy as a result of political strife within India, forcing them to flee their home country. The Kadams (with a little push from fate) eventually wind up settling down in the French countryside, where their patriarch "Papa" (Om Puri) decides to buy a dilapidated piece of property and restart the family's restaurant business.
Problem is, across the road from the Kadams' new home (one hundred feet away, to be exact) is one of the more prestigious French restaurants in the country - a well-oiled machine run by the hard-working proprietress Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren). At first the two establishments go to war, but over time the ice begins to thaw between them - especially as Ms. Mallory comes to realize that Hassan's unusual appreciation for Indian and French cuisine means he possesses all the more potential to become a great chef.
Hundred-Foot Journey is a film adaptation of the novel written by Richard C. Morais, which features powerhouses Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey serving as producers and Steven Knight (Locke) on screenwriting duties. The cultural clash drama/comedy setup touches upon issues concerning racial/class-based tensions and related problems in Europe, but unlike the gritty social realism drama/thrillers that Knight has written in the past (see: Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises, etc.) Hundred-Foot Journey adds a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down easier.
On the whole, Hundred-Foot Journey tends to be quite predictable and lacking in subtly when it comes to presenting its themes; at the same time, though, it's cleanly-structured (thanks to Knight's neat and tidy compression of the source material) and, overall, the film works as charming and generally light-hearted entertainment that's appropriate for a family audience. Part of the credit for that also goes to director Lasse Hallström (Chocolat, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen), who delivers a mix of drama, comedy, and romance that is on the whole pleasant, well-paced, and perfectly handsome, visually-speaking.
Hallström and his director of photography Linus Sandgren (American Hustle) fill just about every frame of Hundred-Foot Journey with either a sunlight-bathed backdrop and/or a lovely snapshot of the locations in France where the movie was filmed; the film's use of old-fashioned editing transitions between scenes (ex. curtain wipes) only adds to the good feelings. The only problem is that such technical elements don't really bring out any deeper meaning in the story, so by the end, Hundred-Foot Journey feels closer to being a pretty postcard instead of a rich painting.
Helen Mirren is the most recognizable star in Hundred-Foot Journey (and thus, she's been featured heavily in the film's marketing), but in a refreshing twist the story is not just about Hassan - it's also very much told from his perspective. Manish Dayal brings a nice blend of wide-eyed innocence, determination, and vulnerability to the character with his performance, making Hassan's journey enjoyable to watch (even though you'll know ahead of time exactly where it's headed).
Similarly, Charlotte Le Bon as Marguerite - an up and coming chef who works for M. Mallory and befriends Hassan early on - has an easy-going chemistry with Dayal and is given just enough meaty script material to allow the character to feel like more than a run of the mill romantic interest. The relationship between Mirren and Dayal's characters feels authentic and helps to drive the plot forward, but Le Bon and Dayal's spiritual connection is what forms the beating "heart" of Hundred-Foot Journey.
Mirren's storyline in Hundred-Foot Journey revolve largely around her evolving relationship with Om Puri as Hassan's father; the pair might even spend more screen time together with one another than with Dayal, for that matter. Either way, Mirren and Puri help to ground their characters and bring more humanity to two people who could've easily come off more as cultural stereotypes (the uptight French woman and outspoken Indian father, respectively). Again, many a filmgoer will be able to spot the final destination of their subplot well before it gets there, but the actors make the trip worth taking anyway.
That's Hundred-Foot Journey, is a nutshell: quite fluffy and conventional, yet perfectly easy to sit back and enjoy thanks to the solid direction, affable performances from the cast, and a rousing original score by Oscar-winner A.R. Rahman (Slumdog Millionaire). Which is to say, The Hundred-Foot Journey is a by the numbers, yet charming, handsome, and well-acted dramedy that the whole family can enjoy. Those who are in the mood to watch a foodie movie that's easy on the eyes and offers just about something for everyone (well, excerpt for little kids, that is), might want to consider giving this one a look at some point.
The Hundred-Foot Journey is now playing in U.S. theaters. It is 122 minutes long and is Rated PG for thematic elements, some violence, language and brief sensuality.