Director Lasse Hallström is no stranger to food flicks as he’s best known for the delightful adaptation of Chocolat. He returns to adapt this similarly à la carte narrative for the big-screen which tries to use food as a means of bridging cultural gaps and ethnic tensions.
An Indian refugee family settle down in a picturesque rural French village and plan to open an Indian restaurant reminiscent of the one they left behind in Mumbai. Unfortunately, a fiercely proud and competitive sous chef at an upscale restaurant just across the street attempts to dismay the family and their plans.
At heart, this film is a romantic comedy that evokes a lot of what made The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel so charming, but unfortunately falls into some of the same clichéd traps. It’s all sumptuously brought together with eye-popping, mouth-watering visuals of food, but don’t expect the same deep-dished depth that it seems to promise.
The Bottom Line
The Kadam family finds itself stranded in the idyllic French countryside after their jalopy gives in due to a fender bender. Recent immigrants from India, they were on their way to Paris to open a restaurant but after Papa (Om Puri) discovers an abandoned building on the outskirts of a quaint village, he decides to make it the new home of ‘Maison Mumbai’, with his talented son Hassan (Manish Dayal) as the chef. Just a few steps across the road is an haute restaurant run by snooty Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren). She is appalled by the music and the smell of curry emanating from the new neighbors, whom she calls “you people” as she pesters them with regulatory complaints. But the caught-in-the-middle mayor develops a fondness for Indian food and Madame Mallory’s cook Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) develops a fondness for Hassan.
Journey force-feeds its audience lots of pretty rudimentary morals, helpfully reminding that its feuding restaurateurs aren’t so different after all, in spite of their opposing views on coriander. Though the film positions its central rivalry as a snobs-versus-slobs showdown, with Hassan and his family as the underdogs flying a flag for real flavour, it also shares with Mirren’s Madame Mallory a drooling reverence for the Michelin star system. Molecular gastronomy is a source of oohs and awes, until it becomes a sterile prison for a chef who needs to remember the value of real eats. The message is mixed: chase your culinary dreams, but also go back to your roots, because appearing on the cover of fine-dining magazines will never be as satisfying as being the big fish in a little pond.
Steven Knight’s sweet, slack script is a startling volte-face from his taut-muscled Locke, a spring sleeper: the latter felt like real life on its very worst day, while The Hundred-Foot Journey feasts on its own movieness, with wisecracking one-liners, sunny aphorisms, and culinary mysticisms care-wrapped in Lasse Hallström’s sun-flare framing of pretty people and pretty landscapes. If you want lightly seasoned comfort food, take a seat. But if you want deep-dish analysis of ethnic or culinary arrogance, the maître d’ suggests you take your business elsewhere.