The Hundred-Foot Journey

by Jake Mulligan

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday August 8, 2014

Charlotte Le Bon and Helen Mirren star in 'The Hundred-Foot Journey'
Charlotte Le Bon and Helen Mirren star in 'The Hundred-Foot Journey'  (Source:Dreamworks II Distribution Co. LLC)

With worldwide box office grosses consistently taking precedence over domestic numbers, we've begun to see the actual content of movies reflect that. Take "Iron Man 3," for example: It makes a hard narrative stop so that Tony Stark can tell us all that China is a great place for business.

That's hardly the only example ("Transformers 4" recently put Chinese-language product placement in scenes placed in Texas), but it's a defining one. Movies aren't made for America anymore, they're made for the world. That's surely the philosophy that produced "The Hundred-Foot Journey" -- an English-language film, featuring stars from the U.K. and the Bollywood scene, that's set in a French village. You'd need a pretty big Venn Diagram to jot down all the audiences this movie is hoping to endear itself to.

We open up with an Indian family, the Kadams, on the run from murderous mobs in their home country. (The conflict that drove them away is never specified, which gives you a good idea of how interested this movie actually is in international cultures.) They find asylum in a small French village, where they open up a restaurant to serve authentic Mumbai-sourced meals. This situation quickly endears itself to family chef Hassan (Manish Dayal,) as he quickly meets cute with French knockout Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon). Their relocation brings with it conflict, though, because this is a movie. It turns out they've opened their family restaurant across the street from a Michelin-rated restaurant serving lauded French cuisine -- and worse still, said restaurant is run by the vaguely racist Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren, going full snob) and her explicitly racist cooking staff. Even worse yet, Marguerite works there.

For the first 40 minutes or so, director Lasse Hallstrom delights in giving us quick-cut montages that detail the two entities (The Kadams and the Madame) using zoning codes, noise ordinances and other measures to try and sabotage the competition. During the second act, Mallory realizes that Hassan is a truly brilliant cook, and sets him on his path to become a master chef in Paris. During the third act, the Madame and the elder Kadam (played by the captivatingly exuberant Om Puri) begin to have a romance of their own. Most commercial films have a three-act structure, but this one feels like three movies: A battle-of-the-restaurants comedy, a rise-of-a-great-artist drama, and a spanning-the-generations story of renewed romance. It's a three-genre structure.

Director Lasse Hallstrom is an old hand (his filmography stretches from "ABBA: The Movie" to "Nicholas Sparks' Safe Haven"), so he has a bit of fun bringing some flair into the picture whenever there's space in the margins. When Marguerite realizes that Hassan has developed from her flirting partner to her professional competition, for instance, Hallstrom has her standing next to a stove -- and he has the heat from the flames show up on her face, turning her blood-red, at the moment she reaches the realization. In other sequences, he establishes a pleasurably elegant tone by filming scenes with an almost Ophulsian flair; his camera bobbing and weaving through kitchen supplies and shelves with great precision.

Of course, Hallstrom's flourishes only further illustrate the ideas and plot developments that are already on screen; they never add additional intellectual layers to the crowd-pleasing narrative. Besides, he's not indulging in them nearly often enough, anyway. Hallstrom's inviting imagery and complex camera movements occur much less often than do one-shots, over-the-shoulder shots, and other boring standards. So his film does succeed in being a multicultural heart-warmer, and it may well find that multi-national audience it's surely searching for -- but there's not much of interest to dig into here beyond the humanism. We haven't used a single food term yet in this review, so we feel like we've earned this one: "The Hundred-Foot Journey" is a well-made trifle.