An Experiment – I’m trying something new: below is an audio version the review (read by yours truly). If this is something you might be interested in future reviews (is it helpful, it doesn’t matter to you or it gets in the way), please let me know in the comments below, as well as any feedback on the reading itself. Thanks
The mix of cultures and cuisine, cutlery and cutting remarks and rosemary and romance presented by The Hundred-Foot Journey is an absolute delight. Before I dive into the movie, let’s get a couple things out of the way – yes, it is a fun, mostly light romantic comedy. If you hate that, you’ll probably want to give this miss. Yes, it has a Disnesyesque ending. If you can’t enjoy some happy, well, that’s sad for you. The jaded will probably diss the film (which is not the same as claiming that you’re jaded if you don’t like the film – I’m not saying that). Let me also make clear where I stand – I believe it’s one of the best films of 2014. A clash of cultures, a tie that binds and a pain that’s remembered and re-lived all come together to give this film grit and heart. Add to that a great cast and adroit directing and you have a recipe for a great film.
[Full disclosure: unlike my typical practice, I am all about books after all, I did not read Richard C. Morais’s book prior to the movie. I intend to amend that error in the near future. ]
We have an uptight, controlling restaurateur with many centuries of French cuisine tradition, and a Michelin star behind her juxtaposed to an emotive, talkative family running an Indian restaurant right across the street in a country village. Some may find this a bit much and all too familiar. Of course this kind of contrast has been done before, from The Prince and the Pauper to My Big Fat Greek Wedding (which I also liked), so what makes The Hundred-Foot Journey so special? It’s all in the execution. First, we have Helen Mirren (nobody her age should look so good) at the top of her game as Mme. Mallory.
Ms. Mirren never plays her character one-dimensionally. Yes she is controlling, traditional and stubborn but like a good soup, however, there are complexities layered in. This is most definitely not a one woman show, however. Om Puri plays her counterpart with a genuineness and ease that would have you eating at Maison Mumbai.
Manish Dayal, as the gifted chef Hassan, and Charlotte Le Bon as Marguerite, the fresh-faced countryside French beauty of a sous-chef, both play their roles perfectly. I particularly love the fact that, while helpful and caring, she does not back down or crumple under the weight of Hassan’s culinary gifts. Hassan and Marguerite’s interplay is a wonderful dance of fleeting moves in and around each other while rarely directly butting heads or lips.This allows the characters, and the story, to develop without simply bogging down into cliché.
Director Lasse Hallström has a deft hand on the film avoiding the twin shoals of taking itself too seriously or becoming a farce. It is poignant precisely because it is funny and sad, it is this hilarious competition and ugly racism and it is these lonely people holding on to the past when they must let go to find their way that build the heart of the film. An example of the brilliant directorial moves that kept it light were the “eyes” – the quick shots between the various players in this culture war “showdown.” An example of what kept it from being silly was the fact that the culture wars escalate out of control and go where the initiators didn’t intend.
While much of the movie’s focus is the business of food, it is really about community and belonging, family and friends and priorities of values. This is no heavy-handed fable; the narrative drives forward based on the relationships and restaurants. Within the context of this story, we are reminded about our universal need to belong (and include others), to love and be loved and that hate never helps. It doesn’t even preserve that which needs no defense.
I hope I’ve given enough of a hint of the film to entice you to see it without resorting to spoilers. You may notice that it’s not loved by a number of the critics, as is typical of this type of movie. For example, only 67% of the critics on Rotten Tomatoes like it while 85% of the audience do. Please don’t let critics dissuade you from seeing it (unless you enjoy feeling above the bourgeoisie values of community and family). Maybe more conflict and loss would somehow deepen the film, but I’m OK with things going fairly OK. Somehow, I’ll even survive a happy ending. One further note: it’s nice and refreshing to not wade through a bunch of cussing and sex to get through to a story. This movie is very light on both. I unreservedly recommend the film to you.