Review by Erick Barrientos
There are few films speak to your heart just as much as they speak to your stomach and The Hundred-Foot Journey from director Lasse Hallström (known for the Academy Award nominated pictures The Cider House Rules and equally heart-warming, mouth-watering film Chocolat) does both very well, albeit with reliance on more than one of the Rom-Com-Dram(a) tropes.
Adapted from the 2010 novel of the same name by Richard C. Morais, this Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey and Juliet Blake produced film follows the story of young Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal) and his family as they make their move from Mumbai, India to Europe after tragedy befalls them following the results of an election. Through great loss, the family attempts to find a new location in Europe to open their restaurant after leaving London because Hassan finds the ingredients there “have no soul.” As fate would have it, the brakes on the family’s vehicle fail and they are helped by a local, Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), who lives in the nearby small, but quaint, French village that they soon-after call their home. It is here that Papa Kadam (Om Puri) is entranced by a property and decides they will establish their restaurant there. The title refers to the story’s main plot point, in which the Kadam’s restaurant is a mere 100 feet away from local Madame Mallory’s (Helen Mirren) Michelin Star rated restaurant. This, of course, is unacceptable. The film touches upon many facets of the human condition and on the tender subject of racism, as many of the chefs at Madame Mallory’s restaurant do not like their new Indian neighbors and not only go as far as to make racial jokes about them, but commit acts that lead to a turning point in the movie where we see, despite Madame Mallory’s initial grievances with the competition, she is still a civil human being.
As most romantic comedies go, the two families in this film quarrel about their differences but eventually find solace in their similarities and Madame Mallory's quest for a second Michelin star. Without spoiling too much of the movie, Hassan is both the dividing line and unifying factor. Not to mention the fact that Marguerite, who is clearly the love interest from her first scene, is the sous chef at the opposing restaurant. Though it is to be said that one watching this movie can find many things to take a liking to. There are some beautiful shots in this film and watching the preparation of ingredients and, subsequently, wonderful dishes is certainly a plus. It’s best you not watch this movie on an empty stomach, or at least within the vicinity of a fine Indian restaurant. There are plenty of lighthearted laughs to be had, which keeps you energized throughout the film's 122-minute running time. The story also finds a nice way to lead into the two opposing restaurants finding common ground that makes it believable, albeit cliché, which leads me to..
The film relies on the audience’s acceptance of this classic “opposites attract” cliché. However, the slight twist is that this is between the restaurants and not so much our main love interests, who are very much alike. Despite their initial grievances, these two restaurants find a way to coexist. Through a Romeo and Juliet-esque interaction between Hassan and Marguerite, we achieve this connection. And though it is done in a tasteful way, it is nonetheless an overused plot device. There are moments later in the film that I wish would have been more fleshed out but still manage to work in the context. The inevitable romance that builds up between Hassan and Marguerite is a tad too formulaic, but still does enough with the aspect of them both being chefs to keep it relatively fresh.
All-in-all, The Hundred-Foot Journey is nothing groundbreaking in filmmaking, nor in the genre, but it does take what has already been established and does it very well, and with food to boot. Despite having “seen it before”, you still feel a sense of joy when watching these two sets of human beings unite over the one thing that I feel can unite even the worst of enemies, food.