The Hundred-Foot Journey

The Hundred-Foot Journey photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgDirector Lasse Hallström has demonstrated a remarkable aptitude for light romantic dramas that aim to please a mass audience. His Chocolat is a particularly relevant example as it closely resembles his latest work. The Hundred-Foot Journey is a comfy well worn mélange made of simple ingredients.  An Indian family new to France is currently looking for a place to live. They had a restaurant in Mumbai but on election night it was set on fire, killing their mother in the ensuing fracas. The remaining clan escapes those horrible conditions for Europe. After a series of failed starts the group is driving through the French countryside. All of sudden their van conveniently breaks down in the picturesque little village of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val. They meet Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), a young local woman who’s stunning and the same age as their middle son Hassan (Manish Dayal) who also happens to be handsome. She takes them to her place and provides a bountiful meal full of locally grown fruits and vegetables all lovingly captured in colorful detail. In the morning, after the van has been repaired, Papa (Om Puri) discovers an old abandoned restaurant and decides to buy it. Wouldn’t you know, it’s right across the street from Le Saule Pleureur – Madame Mallory‘s (Helen Mirren) highly acclaimed Michelin star restaurant. More coincidence.

The actors go a long way into making the trite anecdotes seem a lot more weighty. Helen Mirren plays the snooty Madame Mallory. She starts out as a tough-as-nails disciplinarian. Naturally she’s really just a lovable old softie deep down, which should surprise absolutely no one watching this. Strict patriarch (Om Puri) opens up his Indian restaurant Maison Mumbai on the other side of the road. The 100-feet refers to the distance between the two establishments, This prompts a war of one-upmanship. Cue the inevitable culture clash as it’s France vs. India. Puri is an accomplished actor that holds his own in every scene with the equally talented but more critically applauded Mirren. The two of them are an MVP team of brilliant actors schooling the rest of the cast. They make this material seem fresh. I found their interaction to be rather amusing. For three-fourths of the movie the screenplay mines a familiar rhythm that is comforting. The final quarter devolves into a rushed, overly plotted narrative that goes off in a bizarre direction as our protagonist Hassan finds success. It almost looks like the story will go off the rails but then it suddenly gets steered back on course. The drama ultimately ends exactly like you always expected everything to turn out. To be honest, I’m not sure whether I should fault the film for remaining totally predicable or applaud it for being consistent. I guess I’ll go with the second choice.

Anyone who has ever seen a romantic drama will know precisely how this will all play out. The Hundred-Foot Journey is deliberately calculated, button pushing entertainment as manipulative as they come. The thing is, it’s very well done. It’s highlighted by seductive cinematography. The performances are engaging. So you have to ask yourself, am I going to fight this script because it appeals to the lowest common sentimental denominator or shall I sit back, relax and simply enjoy the beautifully photographed ride? I choose the latter.  The production is a pleasant diversion, but it exploits every emotional beat that you expect. Destiny, serendipity and happenstance are the ingredients in a recipe that dictates the storyline. It’s all very precious. There are no surprises or innovation and yet the contrivance goes down rather smoothly. The confection is sweet, akin to a custard filled pastry liberally sprinkled with a lot of sugar and no nutritional value. Its appeal relies on very obvious charms. Let’s just say that I enjoyed the film, but kind of embarrassed to admit that I did.

08-10-14

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17 Responses to “The Hundred-Foot Journey”

  1. Nice review Mark

    I saw this at the 10:20 AM show on Friday morning. The theater was about 70% filled which is unusual for an early showing. The crowd gave it a nice round of applause – also not the usual for Sarasota theaters.

    Personally I enjoyed the film very much. I’ve not penned my review yet, but I agree with what you wrote completely. In the romance lexicon, a boy and girl must always overcome some hurdles or obstacles. So it was formulaic, but as you said – who cares because it was enjoyable, and even with the unnecessary Paris segment, it was a lovely film to look at.

    • I’m glad you brought up that Paris segment. It was so strange with all the molecular gastronomy techniques. What was the point? Chase your dreams, but then go back to your roots? Confusing.

      I do know I want to book a vacation to France now. lol

  2. What can I say, as terribly predictable as Chocolat is and as much as I’m not one for Romcoms I do love it. I think sometimes if done well a total feel good movie can be really enjoyable. This sounds like it makes the grade.

  3. This sounds like quite a similar reaction to the one I would have after probably many minutes of deliberating whether I should see it or not! 😀 I do want to check this out, sounds much more enticing than I previously expected with a name like Oprah Winfrey somehow involved. Good stuff

  4. Good review. I’m not exactly a fan of Lasse Hallström. I wish I was. I wanted to enjoy The Cider House Rules, but instead ended up hating it. I liked What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, but I feel like if I watched it again, I wouldn’t enjoy it very much. And of course Safe Haven was just total shite. I know a lot of people don’t agree with me, but every film I’ve watching from this guy had been very cloying (including Gilbert Grape, though I didn’t mind the cloying when I watched it). So I haven’t seen Chocolat, and I don’t plan on it…as much as I want to, I feel that it would just make me feel like I’ve been cheated. Ditto The Hundred-Foot Journey. From the trailers, it looks suspiciously like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which I didn’t care for very much.

    >

  5. One of my favs this year. I love this movie. I know, I know this was manipulating and very cute, but I love all that. I agree it almost went south, but came back pretty strong. 4 1/2 stars.

  6. I adore Helen Mirren, so looking forward to this.
    Nice review!

  7. As much as I like to play skeptic, I think I would also sit back and enjoy the ride with this movie. Sometimes it’s nice to have the cinematic equivalent to comfort food.

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