THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY

In A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf mused, “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” But who’s to say that your idea of “dining well” and mine are the same?

When it comes to food, there is perceived quality (with all sorts of pomp and circumstance associated with it) and there is pure enjoyment. The hamburger joint around the corner won’t be earning a Michelin star any time soon, but it may be exactly what you need after a long day or when your grandkids are visiting or you’re about to settle in to watch a ballgame.

Or, it may simply be that—at this moment in the history of the universe—a burger is exactly what you want.

Movies are much the same. There are the films we go see because they’re important, acclaimed, significant. And there are those that simply satisfy us. Both have great value. The trouble comes when a movie that squarely belongs in the second category aspires to the first.

When the Hollywood promotional machine recently heated up for The Hundred-Foot Journey, there was no question that its producers had lofty goals. Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg—industry heavyweights if there ever were any—positively gushed over their new film, giving it gravitas and greater purpose.

Winfrey explained, “The Hundred-Foot Journey is really about the hundred-foot divide between cultures. It’s more than acceptance. It’s about human beings coming to understand other human beings.”

Spielberg continued, “The Hundred-Foot Journey represents everything that we go through—whether it has to do with love or friendship. You have to walk a distance to achieve something of value for yourself.” With all due respect to Oprah and Steve, that’s not what I got out of it.

For this viewer, The Hundred-Foot Journey didn’t illuminate the human condition or make a powerful statement about racism or self-discovery. I didn’t leave the theater feeling as though I had seen something that was good for me. I simply left feeling like I’d had a good time. And, as I mentioned earlier, there’s value in that. In fact, sometimes that’s exactly what you’re in the mood for.

Based on the beloved best-selling novel by Richard Morais and directed with great affection by Lasse Hallström, The Hundred-Foot Journey tells the story of the Kadam family. Forced to flee India after political upheaval and personal tragedy, they settle in the South of France, buy the shell of an old restaurant, and work together to open Maison Mumbai. Dramatic tension—and, oh là là, there’s plenty of it—is provided by one Madame Mallory, the proper proprietress of Le Saule Pleurer, a Michelin-starred establishment, one hundred feet across the road.

The rest of the movie is fairly predictable. We have a clash of cultures. Star-crossed lovers. A sometimes serious, but mostly funny, war between the two restaurants. Naturally, both establishments succeed when they find a common ground. In this case, it’s the kitchen. Add to these ingredients a diverse and delightful set of characters, the breathtaking scenery of the French Pyrénées, and enough slow-motion close-ups of spices, produce, fish, and sauces to satisfy the most hopeless food addict. Whether the film lives up to your expectations or not, it looks delicious.

Academy Award winner Helen Mirren is looking pretty delectable these days herself. As Madame Mallory she is even more regal than she was as Elizabeth II. She reigns supreme over her chefs and the entire village. Her prejudice against the Kadams is exquisitely sharp, but her own sense of honor kicks in when others attack them. No matter how much it pains her (and watching Mirren pained is a pleasure in itself), she believes in “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité.” Her sparring with Papa Kadam soon grows into a grudging friendship and eventual romance.

Mirren is well matched by Om Puri, the celebrated Indian actor, who plays Kadam. He strikes the perfect balance of stubborn patriarch and lover of life. Mallory is at first put off by everything from his music to his curry. She bemoans “the death of good taste.” But she soon finds a friend. Of her costar, Mirren says, “Om is the perfect leading man. Father, friend, host, chef, generous and loving. His charisma is as powerful offscreen as it is onscreen.”

While Mallory and Kadam’s relationship evolves slowly throughout the film, a matching pair of young lovers surfaces with Kadam’s son, the promising chef Hassan (Manish Dayal) and Mallory’s sous chef, the enchanting Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon). They bond together over mushroom hunts, alfresco repasts, and classic cookbooks. While Mallory and Kadam start off as archenemies and gradually grow fond of each other, Hassan and Marguerite begin as friends, then grow apart as their ambitions clash. Not to worry, though. The Hundred-Foot Journey provides an utterly expected but still satisfying ending.

The movie is longer than it needs to be—a prologue set in India and the UK could be shorter, as could a Parisian sequence toward the end—but it’s always beautiful to watch. I don’t know whether to suggest that you eat before it or after it. But, suffice it to say, between the boeuf bourguignon and the murghi masala, you’re going to be craving something a bit more gourmet than popcorn. With or without the golden topping.

With its fine cast, glorious setting, and countless scenes of mouthwatering menus, The Hundred-Foot Journey is an appetizing alternative to summer’s superheroes and zombies. It may be nothing more than cinematic comfort food. But it’s a very sweet treat and a veritable feast for the eyes.

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  • Ellen Sue Spicer August 18, 2014 at 8:57 pm

    I loved your review, esp. when you say that you just enjoyed it, with no overt or covert messages. It was lovely to watch & since I love to cook, the food looked delicious. When Manish Dayal is a little boy and tastes the sea urchin in the market place, he felt as I did when I tasted gelato in Italy. No way to describe; maybe just moan!!!

    Reply
  • hillsmom August 12, 2014 at 6:56 pm

    Sounds interesting. Shall I read the book before the movie or after? Thanks…

    Reply