By Will Ashton
Based on the book of the same title by Richard C. Morais, The Hundred-Foot Journey is a lot like its scenery. It’s grounded, familiar and more commercialized than it should probably be. But, with that, it still remains awe-strikingly beautiful, no matter how many times it is viewed.
Traveling from India to the outskirts of France with not much more than an overstuffed car with failing brakes and a family of five, the Kadam family decides to spice up their new location by boarding up an abandoned building with their own ethnic cooking. Despite the fact that they are only a mere hundred feet away from one of the finest French restaurants this side of Europe, Madame Mallory, and that its namesake (Helen Mirren) is a bitter widow who prides herself as one of the most cold-hearted restaurant owners this side of the Rivera.
By the Kadam family has something up their sleeve that sets them apart from any other amateur restaurant stamping on Mallory’s namesake. That trick would be a gifted young up-and-coming cook, Hassan (Manish Dayal), who, like the rest of his family, finds himself stepping in Madame’s territory way more than he ever thought he would.
There are two particular movies from this summer movie season that The Hundred-Foot Journey calls to mind. The first being Chef and the other, Million Dollar Arm. The connections between the two are rather apparent but still unmistakable. In terms of story, it’s easy to compare both food movies. They both strive to be fun-loving, laid-back feel-good charmers that, for all the effort they put into making the characters dynamic, can’t shake the conventions of their narrative. While Chef is among the best-reviewed movies of the summer, however, there are ways that The Hundred-Foot Journey succeeds that Chef does not, in my opinion.
For example, as much as people praise the mouth-watering effects of Jon Favreau’s movie, The Hundred-Foot Journey had my mouth flooding with saliva unlike any movie this summer, or this year for that matter. Additionally, The Hundred-Foot Journey doesn’t ever try to mercilessly beat down an overbearing message about acceptance and family like Chef did. Rather, it focuses more on the characters’ personalities and seeing them grow, rather than telling the audience endlessly the errors of society’s ways or the main character’s insecurities in repetitive dialogue.
But, in terms of creating stories that escape the run-of-the-mill feel-good film cycle, both stumble. For all its faults, Chef still succeeds through its good-hearted sense of humor and sharp writing, along with its natural charm and grooving soundtrack. While not as surefooted, this movie still finds its own charms to make the quote-on-quote journey worthwhile. It’s formulaic but sweet in a way that feels lighthearted and genuine.
Likewise, The Hundred-Foot Journey is knowingly more about its characters than its story, and in that sense, it has a variety of players that, while completely familiar, are still enjoyable to watch. That is where The Hundred-Foot Journey makes its way into the same mindset of Million Dollar Arm. For, likewise, Million Dollar Arm is almost frustratingly by the book. But its sly, almost self-congratulatory high-spirits and good graces win you over, despite your better judgments. That is, perhaps, the best way to compare and express the feelings felt during The Hundred-Foot Journey.
There are shortcomings here that are almost impossible to ignore. Even though it’s only about two hours and some change long, it’s easily about 10 or 15 minutes too long. Similarly, the rate factor of success on the jokes is more miss than hit, with not enough landing to make the comedy succeed; despite the fact that, thankfully, this movie does have a good sense of humor about itself.
That’s not all, though. For, in addition to its poor jokes, the movie is guided by some particularly groan-inducing dramatic lines like “Life has its own flavor.” These become ever more apparent as the movie gets into its third act—where, naturally, everything gets more dramatic and self-serious. It’s unclear, having not read the book, if these are created for the film or simply translated. But poor writing is poor writing, no matter where it comes from.
As suggested before, there are more than a few things that sell this movie. despite its flaws in its story and script. Primarily, the cast always finds a way to liven and radiate their material through its good-graced charm, without ever getting too cutesy or heavy-handed. The standouts of the movie are Om Puri, as the disgruntled Indian restaurant owner and father, and Charlotte Le Bon, who knows how to wave her acting chops in French and just as well in English and always charmingly melts the screen away with her short-smiled luminosity.
Although it is pretty hard to make the south of France ugly, there is no denying cinematographer Linus Sandgren captures the natural essence found in this European beauty. More than a few times, establishing and opening shots will catch the viewer off-guard and ask them — if just for a brief moment — to bask in the glory so easefully grazed in this foreign location. Not matter how tedious or formulaic the story may get, the visuals always glow.
Of course, director Lasse Hallstrom deserves some credit for making such a handsome looking film. Even the miss films in his hit and miss career traditionally look fairly nice, and The Hundred-Foot Journey is not different in the slightest in that regard.
There is no denying that this movie is going to go under the radar, as the movie season—while not as hot now—is still in heavy competition. Regardless, The Hundred-Foot Journey is a movie that can be enjoyed on the small screen just as much as it can on the big. It has its flaws, no doubt, but as the movie’s quiet power works through the viewer, its hard not to get at least a little wrapped in this by-the-cookbook European journey.