The Hundred-Foot Journey

Directed By: Lasse Halström

Starring: Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal, and Charlotte Le Bon

There aren't a whole lot of fictional movies out there about the culinary arts.  Jon Favreau's Chef was a breath of fresh air earlier this summer.  Julie & Julia and Ratatouille also come to mind when I reflect on the past decade, but not much else.  Cooking-themed movies are a rare cinematic delight that must be savored.  That's why I came to this weekend's The Hundred-Foot Journey with a certain enthusiasm.  It's not every day that we get to watch artists blend spices and flavors to create tasty treats on the big screen.  Though it's not perfect, The Hundred-Foot Journey is a fun romp.

The Haji family has had a long trip to the small French town where they now reside.  Originally from Mumbai, India, their home and family restaurant are burnt to the ground after some controversial election results.  In the fire, the matriarch of the Haji family is killed.  Trying to get away from the turmoil in Mumbai and the horrific memories of that fiery day, Papa (Om Puri) decides to move his family to London just outside of Heathrow.  With planes constantly flying over them and a bland selection of fruits, vegetables, and other ingredients at their disposal, they have little hope of being able to launch a new restaurant.  As such, Papa decides to move once again, this time into mainland Europe.  While driving through France, the family runs into some brake issues and crashes on the side of the road.  Thanks to the generosity of a French woman named Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), the family makes their way into the nearest town where they can find a mechanic.  Little do they know that this town will be their new home.

Once Papa decides that this small French town is where he would like to stay, he begins looking for a place to open up a new restaurant.  With his wife gone, Papa's son Hassan (Manish Dayal) will be taking the reins as the cook.  After all, his mother taught him quite a bit when they were back in Mumbai.  As Papa roams the town, he discovers an abandoned building that would be the perfect venue for their family to bring a taste of Indian cuisine to France.  Against the wishes of a nearby resident and restaurateur Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), Papa purchases the property.  Given that Mallory has a popular French restaurant across the street that has in fact received a Michelin Star, Papa's decision to open up a new place just a hundred feet away across the street sets the stage for war.  As Papa launches his restaurant, Madame Mallory puts her energies into shutting it down.  Meanwhile, Hassan tries to turn food into tasty memories by understanding the ingredients available to him around town, and sous chef Marguerite helps him to do so by introducing him to the five sauces of French cuisine.

The Hundred-Foot Journey, an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Richard C. Morais, is one charming little movie.  Produced by Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg, this fun flick highlights how taste can be the gateway to exposing oneself to different cultures.  Directed by Lasse Halström, the movie is a blend of Chef and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in theme and tone respectively.  Halström intimately introduces us to Indian and French cuisine with a firsthand look at how these culinary delights beautifully come together.  Halström also gives us a laid back film fueled by plenty of wholesome humor, frequently involving Om Puri and Helen Mirren.  Though the narrative feels a bit rushed and the screenplay can be overly sugary at times, The Hundred-Foot Journey undoubtedly delights.

The core of this film is the cast.  Each of our four main cast members brings something different to the table.  For his part as our star Hassan, Manish Dayal brings a heartfelt openness to different cultures and ways of life.  Dayal also brings emotional nuance to the role that really pays off as he explores the darker facets of his character in the later portion of the film.  For her part as Hassan's romantic interest Marguerite, Charlotte Le Bon brings a certain warmth to the film that really makes her interactions with Hassan something special.  We also have Om Puri as Papa.  In his portrayal of this crazy character, Puri brings a lot of spirit and even more comedy.  Finally, we have Helen Mirren.  As Madame Mallory, she gives us an ice queen with class.  This sort of role perfectly suits the Oscar-winning actress.

The Hundred-Foot Journey has a slow opening act, but it quickly recovers.  When it does so, we get one endearing flick with some mouthwatering dishes.  As a fan of a good omelet, I'm particularly curious about the dish Hassan puts together mid-way through the movie.  I don't rate movies using Michelin Stars, so you're going to have to live with blood alcohol concentration (BAC).  The Hundred-Foot Journey gets a strong 0.06% rating.  Have a couple of glasses of Chardonnay with this one.