Friday, September 12, 2014

The Hundred-Foot Journey

In light of recent major blockbuster action movies some other movies have been eclipsed by things like Guardians of theGalaxy, The Giver, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and others. Smaller, less bombastically advertised movies were overlooked. When I told friends I was seeing The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014) no one had heard of it. But since it's a foodie movie, the trailer piqued my interest and I'm glad I caught it in theaters.
Coming from a family of talented cooks, Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal) has a life filled with both culinary delights and profound loss. Drifting through Europe after fleeing political violence in India that killed the family restaurant business and their mother, the Kadams arrive in France. Once there, a chance auto accident and the kindness of a young woman, Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), in the village of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val inspires Papa Kadam (Om Puri) to set up an Indian restaurant there. Unfortunately, this puts the Kadams in direct competition with the snobbish Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren) and her acclaimed haute cuisine establishment across the street where Marguerite also works as a sous-chef. The resulting rivalry eventually escalates in personal intensity until it goes too far.
The Hundred-Foot Journey practically demands that you take it seriously. It's cram-packed full of feel good themes and multicultural understanding, as if to stress "this is something important!" It even comes with the official stamp of approval from media proprietor Oprah Winfrey and legendary filmmaker Steven Spielberg, both of whom are producers for the movie. The Hundred-Foot Journey clearly has artistic ambitions and is probably trying to pander to the Oscar judges. While the movie is certainly well crafted, well acted, and undoubtedly enjoyable, it is also conventional and predictable. The movie is about opening up your senses and sampling exotic tastes, but this comic drama plays everything a bit too safe to the point that it's a bit bland at times.
One of the best parts of the movie is the interplay between Helen Mirren and Om Puri as battling restaurant owners operating across the street from each other - one hundred feet away from each other to be exact, a short but fraught trip that various characters take for various reasons. Watching these veteran actors stoop to sabotage each other provides a constant source of laughs and a few shocking moments; I gasped more than a few times at the audacity each character demonstrates and the undermining stunts they pull. Mme. Mallory is all sharp angles, piercing looks, and biting quips; Papa is all round joviality, boisterous blasts, and warmhearted optimism. Their constant squabbling is the only tension in this soft and gooey dish, until the third act when the film goes all soft and gooey.
Hassan enjoys a flirtatious relationship with Marguerite which is cute but bland and fairly predictable. They do look lovely together and share a light but enjoyable chemistry. Hassan and Marguerite's storyline eventually takes the helm and steers the story in an unexpected direction that feels out of place with most everything that came before it. It all fits back together again by the end and results in a happy little movie that most anyone could enjoy.
This was a beautifully filmed movie. We get many shots of the rural French countryside which is stunningly gorgeous to say the least, and the camera work captures as much of it as possible. So many of the shots are picturesque and would look splendid if framed on your wall. Even the sets have this beautiful rustic texture that makes everything seem organic, natural, and has an antique quality to it.
As was the case in Julie & Julia, The Hundred-Foot Journey is a foodie movie. As such, food plays a prominent role in the film. We get to see some elegant looking French cuisine as well as some delectable Indian fare. We see everything from purchasing the food from local markets, to preparing the food, to cooking with tedious accuracy, arranging it in an attractive manner on the plate, and presenting it to the dining guest. Every step of the cooking process is shown over and over in different scenes but is no less interesting to watch. It is at least as interesting to watch as any program on The Food Channel. The movie made my mouth water; it was a feast for the eyes and made me crave Indian food.
I genuinely enjoyed The Hundred-Foot Journey even though it was predictable and tame. The story was good, the characters were fun, the romantic subplot was cute but very bland, the camera work and scenery was incredible, and the food was luscious to behold. This is a nice, clean movie and rests safely in the PG realm, though it probably won't hold the attention of younger viewers. I think this is worth catching in theaters if you can still find it. I enjoyed it enough that I might get myself a copy when it hits Blu-Ray.

Every culture has its own culinary traditions. What kind of food would you like to see used in a foodie movie sometime? Comment below and tell me why!

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