The Hundred-Foot Journey – 2014

Director Lasse Hallström
Starring Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal, Charlotte Le Bon
Screenplay Steven Knight based on the book by Richard C. Morais

Part of the problem with the wave of Oprah Winfrey endorsed artistic product is that every story feels so antiseptic to actual living. The story that would otherwise be compelling feels more like it was pushed out of the play-dough factory of emotional manipulation. When done right, say, for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, one gets the sense that we are experiencing the lives of others. We see their highs and lows. The people are changed by the end of the journey. When we watch it poorly done, the character is not as much changed by their journey as the places that they move to are made to understand how wonderful the protagonists are. Lots of hugging, lots of learning.

Oprah and Spielberg are the kinds of folks who want to bring McDonald’s to Paris. Where ever we go, we will be met with warmth, success and definitely no bugs. It’s a shame, too, because underneath all the sheen and ease of use, there is a decent story here that deserves to be told. The story is about the Kadam family, who have a successful restaurant in India until some unnamed revolutionaries destroy their restaurant and kill the matriarch. They take their remaining fortune and go to Europe.  First they try England, but it is too wet so then they move to France.

The town they arrive at is a meet cute. The car breaks down next to an abandoned restaurant with which Papa (Puri) immediately falls in love. It is across the street from a Michelin-starred eatery, but Papa stubbornly insists that is precisely the reason for the family to go for it. There is token resistance by the oldest son, but the rest follow suit. This does not go over well with the owner of the next door restaurant, Madame Mallory (Mirren). A genteel battle of wills ensues between her, her Chef and Papa, where two of the contestants find a deeper appreciation for each other and one of them (guess) gets fired for softball racism. This is the way things go in Oprah / Spielberg world. Every bad outburst is contained, easily. Then back to hugging and learning.

On the under-card, we have Hassan (Dayal) and Marguerite(Le Bon). They are the star-crossed lovers of the feud, if it can even be called that. They have many fine moments that seem right out of a Hallmark card. The move to the big city and the way it puts the romance on hold is silly, since it’s obvious where it’s all going to end up.

The acting in Hundred-Foot Journey is fine, as in every one of the performers hit their marks. The lines feel more rehearsed than lived in: even the wonderful Helen Mirren seems as though she’s going through the motions. I have an appreciation for Hallström. He’s done some great work in his time (Hachi, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, My Life As A Dog), he’s done a bunch of ABBA Videos and he’s done a bunch of safe chick movies (Safe Haven, Salmon Fishing In The Yemen, Dear John, Chocolat). This is in the latter group.

Many people will like this film. Some, I dare say, will even love it. That is fine. There are many folks who enjoy the Big Mac. This is that kind of film that gives you a pat on the back and tells you everything will be alright, and then indeed, makes all of its characters follow suit. The same way Pilgrim’s Progress comforted folks in the 19th century and The Cosby Show did in the 20th. Some people like a little roughage in their food and a little grist in their stories. Some people crave comfort food. Those people will take what Oprah and Spielberg feed them for the rest of their lives and never realize they could have had John Sayles or Mira Nair once in a while.

(** out of *****)

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