French and Indian Cuisine Combine For a Delicious Feel Good Story

Director: LASSE HALLSTRÖM/2014

Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey joined forces to cook up a feel-good summer film.  To prepare their dish, Oprah used her knowledge of (cook) books via the Oprah Book Club and found a charming story called The Hundred Foot Journey.  Spielberg, added the production choices such as finding director Lasse Hallström (Chocolate, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) and then they began to bake.

The story follows a young boy named Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal), who learns his love of cooking from his family, and especially his mother.  Following a fire in their family restaurant in India, as a result of political unrest, Hassan’s father, played by the wonderful Om Puri, moves the Kadam family to Europe.  When fate lands them in a small town in France, they decide to open up a new restaurant across the street, 100 feet from a renowned French restaurant where Helen Mirren is the proprietor, Madame Mallory.  This begins an epic restaurant war, a budding romance between Hassan and the french sous-chef (Charlotte Le Bon) across the street, as well as a pursuit for acceptance of the Kadam family in their new homeland.

To help tell this story, screenwriter Steven Knight (Locke, Eastern Promises) adapts the book from Richard C. Morais.  Throw in a dash of A.R. Rahman’s score (Slumdog Millionaire), and the cinematography of Linus Sandgren (American Hustle, Promised Land) and you have a feast for the eyes and ears.

The film is a PG-level feel good film and plays all the right notes.  With a story that resembles Ratatouille, we learn the similar story that you don’t have to be a professionally trained chef to make your mark, because as Chef Gusteau says in the Pixar film, “Anyone can cook”.  Hassan plays the part of Ratatouille’s Remy who desires to cook all sorts of new dishes while his family doesn’t always understand.  He is also in the role of Linguini, the awkward boy of a chef falling for the more competent sous-chef Collette, only in The Hundred Foot Journey her name is Marguerite.  Both films take place partially in Paris and both see a pursuit of adding more Michelin stars for their restaurants. Both also address the idea that each bite of food is a memory if we can truly savor it.

The Hundred Foot Journey hits all the right notes on the way down for 2/3rds of the film.  During the last 1/3, when the scenery leaves the small town and exchanges it for Paris, you feel like you just experienced a strange side dish that didn’t really fit the rest of the cuisine on the plate.  Fortunately, the scenery shifts back to the small town and the pleasant taste returns.

Helen Mirren and Om Puri are wonderful together, especially as they go head to head in competition for each of their respective restaurants.  Both are quite funny and also are able to add a layer of gravitas to the proceedings that serve as an anchor for the two worlds our protagonist, Hassan, is seeking to straddle.  In fact, this film is extremely well casted from the starring roles down to the extras.  Hassan’s family is made up of small but endearing contributions from Farzana Dua Elahe, Amit Shah, Juhi Chawla, Dillon Mitra, and Aria Pandya.

Some criticism of the film would be that it plays it to safe for most of the film as it relates to the fish-out-of-water aspects of the Kadam family and in the depiction of Hassan’s journey to gain respect as a chef without the formal training.  The danger aspects of being immigrants in a land that inherently doesn’t want them is a gripping moment of the film but then is quickly washed away through simple solutions.  When the film decides to be edgy with Hassan’s journey, it doesn’t quite impact us as nothing in Hassan’s character up to this point has suggested that he is the type of person the film tries to paint him as briefly.

But even with these criticisms, The Hundred Foot Journey is baked for your enjoyment, and for the enjoyment of the whole family.  Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, along with Hallström, have given the audience a movie that will have you smiling as you exit the kitchen, er, theater.  Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey even introduced the film via video before our screening, and they were so giddy for this film, I swore that Oprah was going to tell us to look under our seats and we’d find the keys to a new car or something.

While this is a safe film, it is a beautifully shot one that hits all the right notes.  And just like Ratatouille, it will have you believing that anybody can cook and that food are really memories if you are able to take a bite out of life and savor each moment.  If you are looking for a feel good film that will make you smile, then make your own journey to see The Hundred Foot Journey.