“The Hundred-Foot Journey” Movie Review

     Known for such fare as “Chocolat” and “The Cider House Rules”, director Lasse Hallstrom was the perfect choice to helm the European flavored coming of age story “The Hundred-Foot Journey.  The film is a delightful entry positioned within the madness of summer where massive effects driven studio tentpoles rule, but where well thought out counter programming can round out the marketplace with a story that skews toward a more mature audience.  Scripted by Steven Knight (“Eastern Promises”, “Locke”) and based on the book by Richard C. Morais, “The Hundred-Foot Journey” tends to cover the familiar tropes common in stories involving restaurant competitiveness and the younger family members from both sides who connect and realize the level of childishness exhibited by the older more set in their ways family members.  Nonetheless, the film plays with a certain undeniable charm, all the while following in the footsteps of “Chef” by featuring delectable French and Indian cuisine prepared before the audience’s eyes. 

     When we first meet the Kadam family, their restaurant falls victim to political unrest and rioting in India that causes them to flee the country and look elsewhere to settle.  In the early years of the family restaurant, a young Hassan (Manish Dayal) is taught by his mother how to make the tantalizing dishes that have made the family business so successful.  As Hassan grows, he develops into the family’s most talented chef and when the group finally decides to settle in a small town in France, his father, Papa Kadam (Om Puri) knows he must rebuild the business in order to showcase his son’s talents.  They find a run down restaurant building that we assume had failed at some point and immediately put in an offer.  What they are unaware of is directly across the street sits the “Le Saule Pleureur”, the most popular restaurant in town and the proud owner of a one star Michelin rating.

     Certainly with what the family has been through to this point, a little competition isn’t something that will scare them off and we soon see the group turning the building into the “Maison Mumbai”, a restaurant that will feature age old Indian dishes prepared exclusively by Hassan.  At first, the Le Saule Pleureur’s owner, Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren) seems unthreatened by the new competition, but when a number of positive reviews along with steady business threaten her own bottom line and ego, she begins to sabotage their operation.  This is accomplished mainly at first by buying up key ingredients from the town’s market, but later escalates to some of her employees taking matters into their own hands.

     A budding friendship develops between Hassan and Mallory’s sous-chef, Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) as the two find plenty in common even though their respective restaurants are engaged in a childish turf war.  The two talented chefs are soon successful in bringing the two families together, setting the stage for Hassan to show his extensive talents to Mallory, who is said to know whether or not a chef will be great based solely on taking a single bite of an omelette prepared by the chef.  When Hassan gets this opportunity, Mallory takes him in to her kitchen and trains him in French cooking.  This allows Hassan to meld French and Indian dishes together and catapults him to superstardom.

     This whole exercise has a certain predictability about it where it’s not difficult to determine the outcome of the story.  Hallstrom’s direction carries the audience, allowing for little thought or suspense, to the kind of positive third act guaranteed to leave a smile on everyone’s face.  Mirren’s Mallory begins as a high society snob who cares only about her restaurant’s rating and impressing the right people.  She’s none to happy about the gaudy Indian restaurant that has opened just one hundred feet away from hers and would prefer to degrade them rather than befriend the town’s newest family.  Of course, certain sentimental type events occur which change her view point and in the process, bring the film to its predictable conclusion.  The cast is; however, game and they consistently bring a youthful energy and vibrance to the proceedings.  There’s something very satisfying about seeing these young people put forth such a dedicated effort into their craft and ultimately succeeding.  GRADE: B