Walt Disney Studios
It’s a given that you don’t go into a film like The Hundred-Foot Journey hungry, but you should also steer clear if you’re the least bit sleepy — you’ll never make it. Despite a title that suggests the ambiance of adventure, the movie has no intention of rousing its viewers beyond a fugue state of pleasantry. What we get instead of a journey is a slice of life: a soft-spoken celebration of family, friendship, romance, culture, and cooking. In essence, a tribute to that old maxim about stopping to smell the roses (or pick edible mushrooms).
But the film’s quaint, merry charm doubles as its chief problem: things are almost too easy. We step into the going-more-or-less-okay lives of a family of Indian cooks as they set up shop in small town France, wrinkle our brows as matters dip to levels of ain’t-that-a-pickle when they cross paths with a hardnosed-but-really-not-all-that-bad-whatsoever French restaurateur, and then sigh merrily as things seem to turn out just splendidly for all parties involved.
Walt Disney Studios
The parties in question, too, are a broadly painted lot: we never really get to know hero Hassan (Manish Dayal), a talented cook torn between his roots and aspirations… or his work and his love life… or something. As such, the task to engage with his struggles — burnt hands, a marred relationship, and a job that ain’t all it’s cracked up to be — becomes a futile one. And the effort is not made much easier by the film’s insistence on keeping things as light as can be. Hell, even the fire that breaks out in this film doesn’t get too out of hand.
Still, although we might be dealing with simple characters, we can’t really bemoan our time spent with them as anything other than pleasant. Helen Mirren, as should be no surprise to anyone, is a treat in her colder scenes — like when she’s condescending to her new neighbors or doling out judgmental grimaces from behind her omniscient drapery — and her warmer ones. Om Puri, playing Hassan’s plucky father, is a riotous purveyor of smart aleck irreverence. There’s a half dozen other characters who kind of get brushed to the side, but it’s hard to mind when The Hundred-Foot Journey’s greatest gems are the passive-aggressive bickering matches between Madame Mallory (Mirren) and “Papa” (Puri).
Ultimately, this very Lasse Hallström feature isn’t looking to excite, challenge, or institute anything altogether new. It’s here to remind you of the simple, slow, soft pleasures — sure, it’s a light dish. But it’s a sweet one.