THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY
Director: Lasse Hallström
Cast: Manish Dayal, Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Charlotte Le Bon, Amit Shah, Farzana Dua Elahe, Dillon Mitra, Aria Pandya, Michel Blanc, Clément Sibony
MPAA Rating: (for thematic elements, some violence, language and brief sensuality)
Running Time: 2:02
Release Date: 8/8/14
Review by Mark Dujsik | August 7, 2014
Everything that happens in The Hundred-Foot Journey is a foregone conclusion. We know how every establishing beat will develop the moment each one happens. Familiarity, of course, can breed contempt, but it can also engender comfort. There are comfortable moments here, and they arrive during the few occasions that screenwriter Steven Knight (adapting the book by Richard C. Morais) and director Lasse Hallström allow this material to breathe. When the movie isn't focused on the predictable paths of its various character arcs, we have a sense of these characters living and working.
It's these in-between moments that truly matter. We know the young man who starts as a cook for his family restaurant in India will achieve great things. We know the father, whose wife died, will find love. We know the tough restaurateur with an unforgiving, traditional palate will learn to appreciate and see the excitement in something different.
We know all of these things from the moment the characters state—sometimes quite overtly—their intentions or the screenplay indirectly informs us of where these characters are and where they need to go to correct course. That knowledge is unimportant if a movie cares enough about the characters to allow them room and time to grow. Those are the in-between moments, and while The Hundred-Foot Journey does possess them from time to time, there is the unmistakable sense that the screenplay wants to move through them as quickly as possible.
Hassan (Manish Dayal) and his family have come to Europe from Mumbai after participants in a political riot set fire to their restaurant. The fire also killed Hassan's mother (For some inexplicable reason, there is a really tactless cut that goes from the fire to Hassan cooking meat on an open flame—just after seeing a woman die a horrible, fiery death, mind you ). The family tried their luck in London, but the food was not up to their standards ("The vegetables had no soul," Hassan says).
While driving through France, the brakes on the family van fail, leading Hassan's father (Om Puri)—known only as "Papa"—to decide to settle down in a nearby village. Despite his children's objections, Papa buys an old restaurant that has been on the market for so long that the "For Sale" sign is rusty. The reason is that the only Michelin-starred eatery for 50 miles is located across the street.
It's owned by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), who has devoted her life to French cuisine since her husband died. She is seemingly unfazed by the competition, but that doesn't stop her from attempting to sabotage their opening night by buying all the food they need for the menu from the local market.
The battle is played mostly in the background, and that's one of the more appealing elements of this story. There isn't a reliance on the external conflict of dueling restaurants, although there is a montage of Papa and Mallory trying to one-up each other in terms of making legislative complaints to the mayor (Michel Blanc), who is more than happy to abide their grievances as long as they provide food at the meetings.
It's innocent stuff. It turns far less so when one of Mallory's cooks—fueled by ugly nationalist sentiment—tries to burn down the competing establishment. In the fall-out, the movie treats Mallory's shift in perspective with restraint (Mallory's response—"I don't pay you to burn things"—is the closest she comes to a big speech on the matter). It is simply a given that Mallory, confronted with something that despicable, is able to put aside her comparatively petty quarrel.
The story, though, is really Hassan's. He learns about French cooking. He strikes up a flirtatious acquaintance with Mallory's sous-chef Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), who encourages his dream but wants to keep the potential for romance at a safe distance. Hassan's story, then, is one of attainable goals: become a famous chef and "get the girl." Knight's screenplay treats these in a surprisingly passive way. Hassan simply reads books and cooks, occasionally speaking with Marguerite about the particulars of cooking. If there's a drive behind the character, it's kept at bay, and a lot of that has to do with the way Hallström condenses Hassan's progression with a series of montages for shortcuts (They are admirable in their deceptive fluidity; it takes a while to realize that we're in the midst of a transitional sequence).
The movie's pattern is relaxed in spots but firmly set most of time. It doesn't fully break that pattern until the third act. Here, Hassan has achieved half of what he wants and learns that accomplishment can also be a bit of a curse. The development puts us off-kilter, because, for once, the character whose development has seemed so simple suddenly must face a crisis of sorts. It's unfortunate that it comes so late in The Hundred-Foot Journey. This is the in-between for which we've been waiting, but the movie again rushes through it to get to the preordained conclusion.
Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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