By Kelsey Lewczynski, Guest Writer
To preface, I really do like movies with food as a central theme. “Ratatouille”, “No Reservations”, “Mostly Martha”, “Chef”, and “Julie and Julia” are all movies that I enjoy. I love films that make me hungry. I love to eat. Food is awesome.
However, just because food looks nice in a film does not mean I will be distracted from a less-than-stellar offering.
The basic plot of “The Hundred-Foot Journey” is that an Indian family, the Kadams, move to Europe in search of a place to settle down due to violence erupting in their home country. Eventually they settle in France. Enamored by the scenic views and the local food, they decide to open up a restaurant to serve up their own authentic (and in this section of France, original) ethnic cuisine.
Bad news: They’re opening a restaurant one hundred feet away from a Michelin-star restaurant. The owner Madame Mallory, played by Helen Mirren in a jarring French accent (she is actually fluent in the language, but it still sounds strange), is not happy about these interlopers and their not-French food, not-French music and not-French ways.
Yes, racism is a prevalent theme, and is a formidable hurdle for our protagonist Hassan, who is a brilliant self-taught chef.
After several false starts, he gains the attention of Madame Mallory. Hassan has been learning how to cook in the French style and eventually earns an apprenticeship at Mallory’s restaurant where he comes into his own as a chef.
It isn’t long before he is the toast of France, the critics loving his French-Indian fusion style. Both restaurants are missing Hassan, who has moved to Paris, but are happy for his success. Hassam is successful, but unhappy.
I won’t spoil the ending, but you could probably tell where it’s going. For a film that is two hours long, very little actually happens. Two romances are shoved into the narrative, but the regular viewer will probably only care about one of them. Tropes are abundant here, such as the “turn the other cheek in the face of racism”, the “I’m successful… but I feel empty”, the “outsiders accepted into the fold” and a few others you’ll probably recognize.
I guess one of the plot points that annoyed me most was why Madame Mallory was so insulted by the Indian restaurant that opened across the street from hers. She even went so far as to try to sabotage them several times in the first half. Why? She has a Michelin-star restaurant serving food that is eaten by only the most prestigious in the country. She has no reason to be threatened, as her restaurant certainly isn’t going to suffer.
And another thing. One of Mallory’s chefs firebombs the Kadam restaurant, damaging everything and even injuring Hassan’s hands, the tools of his culinary career. Mallory finds out and fires him. He isn’t shown to be arrested or punished outside of his firing and everything just seems to go back to normal. The lack of recompense rubbed me the wrong way. And Hassan’s hands healed perfectly and it was never mentioned again, making me (and other audience members if after-movie conversation was anything to go by) wonder what exactly the point of that story arc was.
Mallory taking a stand against racism after going out of her way to sabotage the Kadams? That was the point and that was made very clear, but it rings hollow.
I don’t think I’d see it again. “One and done”, that’s what I’d call it. There isn’t much to recommend if you don’t like cuisine film.
Om Puri and Helen Mirren are the standouts, but they’re film veterans, so anything less would be unexpected. There were a few laughs in there, but most of the moments of drama or realization felt contrived or predictable.
If you love food film, head to a matinee screening. If you like food film, head to Netflix in a couple months. If you want to be entertained for two hours, then you will be. But don’t expect to be left thinking too hard about this one. The entertainment is as light as a soufflé (which, oddly enough, wasn’t in the film at all.)