Review: The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014)

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Director: Lasse Hallström
Screenwriter: Steven Knight
Based on the novel of the same name by Richard C. Morais
Cast: Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal, Charlotte Le Bon, Amit Shah, Farzana Dua Elahe, Michel Blanc & Clément Sibony
Runtime: 122 min // Certificate: PG

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d2PFqd6zDrs]

When you go into a Lasse Hallström directed film, you generally know what to expect; mawkishness, oversentimentality and inviting simplicity. The Hundred-Foot Journey, his adaptation of Richard C. Morais’ novel of the same name, is no different, and so he at least deserves some minor credit for consistency if nothing else.

Set in an idyllic village in Southern France, the film is both a culture clash comedy and a food porn extravaganza, though (pun time guys…) both of these elements feel distinctly (get ready…) “undercooked” (boom). When the Kadam family’s van breaks down in the village on their search for a new home, following the destruction of their Mumbai restaurant and the death of their Mother, their Papa (Puri; East is East) decides to open an Indian opposite the well-established, Michelin-star restaurant of Madame Mallory (Mirren; The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover), a stubborn matriarch and widow. Mallory, aghast at the behaviour of her new neighbours, does everything in her power to scupper the Kadam family’s new venture, only to slowly but surely warm to them when they fall victim to abuse from certain elements of the community.

The Hundred-Foot Journey, film

If you’ve seen one culture clash comedy you’ve seen them all, and The Hundred-Foot Journey plays everything to the letter. From the moment Mallory and Papa Kadam meet, you know how their feud will end, and so the two hour journey towards that inevitable conclusion is a real slog. The film is much too long and lacks any real focus, thus meaning that though the food looks marvellous and the scenery is quite pleasant to look at, there’s nothing of much interest actually going on, and anything that does threaten to breathe some life into the story is quickly brushed to one side for fear of sparking controversy.

Furthermore, Hallström (Chocolat) does next to nothing to inject any real flavour or spice into the story, while screenwriter Steven Knight (Locke) struggles to tell a tale that doesn’t come across as trite or manipulative. It’s all very warm and comforting, even when the difficult issues of French nationalism and racism are (briefly) tackled, and though it possess a certain sweetness, the mixture is much too sugary for my liking (seriously, I could do these puns all day…) It’s all very feel-good and comforting, and I have no problem with that on a general level, but when you’re dealing with a clash of cultures, a bit more bite wouldn’t go amiss.

Like most culture-clash stories of its ilk, The Hundred-Foot Journey is also hindered by its own inherent contradictions. The casting of Helen Mirren, who takes us on a speaking tour of Europe and provides some stiff competition to Cate Blanchett’s recent attempt at a Scottish twang in the contest for “Worst Accent of the Year”, is at odds with the film’s supposed admiration for France and its culture, and the fact that everyone speaks fluent English strikes me as anathema to the supposed message of the story. Similarly, though Puri is passable and Manish Dayal (Breaking the Girls) does a decent job of portraying the film’s “bridge character” (i.e. the one who brings both cultures together in harmony), the performances as a whole leave a lot to be desired. No-one seems sure whether the film is meant to be comedic, dramatic or both, and as such you can really seem them acting – by which I mean, you can practically see their brains processing every word before they open their mouths as they struggle to capture the film’s muddled tone.

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There’s nothing particularly dislikeable about The Hundred-Foot Journey but it is quite patience-testing and, at times, interminably boring. The characters are all defined by very blunt and loose traits, the conflicts that arise always simmer into nothing, and Helen Mirren’s French accent is absolutely shocking. It’s one of those films that people of a certain age and disposition might like, but personally I’d forgotten almost everything about it before the end credits stopped scrolling.

I will say this though; make sure you eat before you watch it, because the constant shots of mouth-watering food will leave you feeling pretty damn peckish.

★★

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