The Hundred-Foot Journey
Director: Lass Hallström
Starring: Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal
122 mins; Class 18;
KRS Releasing Ltd

It is rather easy to recognise a Lasse Hallström film. The Swedish director’s résumé boasts a varied confection of movies, with acclaimed films such as My Life as a Dog, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and Chocolat under his belt.

These are all films that are gentle, sentimental and poignant, featuring a strong ensemble of engaging characters with interesting stories to tell.

They are also set in an idyllic location. All elements which feature strongly in the trailer for The Hundred-Foot Journey, leading me to immediately recognise Hallström’s style.

Helen Mirren stars as Madame Mallory, the rather snooty owner of a Michelin-starred classic French restaurant in a serene French countryside village. To her absolute horror, Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal) and his father and siblings move across the road… to open an Indian restaurant.

Cue a relentless clash of cultures. But, when Hassan’s interest in French cuisine begins to blossom, Madame Mallory can’t help but notice. His father (Om Puri), instead, bemoans his son’s ostensible abandonment of their Indian culture.

Cue a relentless clash of cultures

Being a Hallström film, it is not too difficult to work out what will ultimately be served up on the menu.

And, while the cast can’t be faulted, the cuisine on offer – be it French or Indian – is lovingly prepared and it all looks absolutely gorgeous, the final product is more of a light snack than a gourmet meal.

An excerpt from the novel by Richard C. Morais on which the film is based states: “A hundred-foot journey begins in that moment when you bravely drop what is familiar and cross over into a new realm that is far out of your comfort zone. It is a profound journey – however small in physical distance – that materially changes the course of your life for the better.”

Wise and profound words indeed, yet the film never lives up to their promise. For that journey, and the challenges it presents – be they cultural, cuisine-related, or of the heart – are, at best, half-baked. Many issues are tackled but none with any depth, leaving you with a sense that something is missing.

Be it the underlying racism that drives some of the characters (leading to a particularly ugly scene where the Kadams restaurant is firebombed), the potential rivalry that threatens the blossoming romance between Hassan and Mallory’s sous-chef Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), or the former’s inability to cope with big-city life when he makes a name for himself, it all feels a little undercooked, despite its two-hour length.

There are many moments to savour – Mirren is as watchable as ever, her inimitable droll delivery – “I am waiting for Hassan Kadam or death, whichever comes soonest,” she retorts in reply to why she has spent the night sitting on a restaurant chair .

Her transformation from culinary snob to champion of Hassan’s work is believable and the moment when her icy demeanour towards him begins to melt as she makes an omelette as per his instructions is sublime.

Overall, The Hundred-Foot Journey is not a bad dish, but considering its rich ingredients, it still lacks a bit of spice. While the restaurants in the film aim for three Michelin stars, the film will have to settle for three Paula ones.

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