Plus a few hundred feet more.
There are a few films that can take you out of one moment and immerse you into another, such as the fine aromas and delicacies of a French cuisine resteraunt. The Hundred Foot Journey is not one of those movies. By the time the movie ends, you find yourself thinking less about the main course and more about the half-cooked ingredients that went into it.
The plot follows one Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal), a young Indian chef who was forced to flee from his home after it was destroyed in a political riot. After gathering together his family, which includes his hard-headed Papa (Om Puri) and his four siblings, they pursue the legendary city of France, only to have their brakes suddenly stop working a few miles out of the city. “Brakes break for a reason,” his father tells them, words that we can take away as the best piece of dialogue out of the entire movie.
They soon meet Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), a stubborn French connoisseur who owns the one star French resteraunt that is exactly 100 feet across from their home. (Ahhhhh, now you get the title. “The Hundred Foot Journey,” har-dee har-dee har.) Now with Hassan’s family working to open their own Indian resteraunt, a rivalry forms between the two resteraunts as both of their cultures and cuisines clash with one another.
I’m sorry, did I make this sound relentlessly boring? I didn’t mean to, but hey: at least you’re getting an accurate depiction of my experience. The Hundred Foot Journey starts with a lack of interest and ends with just as much a lack of interest. Like many failed feel-good dramas, this movie meanders from point A to point B to point C, D, E, and so on and so forth until you’ve reached the end of the alphabet. There’s nothing in this story to compel you to care for the characters, no great sense of conflict or urgency that draws you in to its setting or premise.
Waitaminute, I take that back. There is one thing: Manish Dayal, the young actor who portrays Hassan. He handles his portrayal with genuity and earnesty, the only actor to do so out of the entire production. He’s the curious sort, an eager and passionate young chef who is drawn to all tastes of the senses, whether it is Indian or French. He demonstrates the most versatility in the picture, showing an excitement and enthusiasm so pure that we (briefly) slip into his mind to feel what he is feeling before the rest of the film rips us out of it. He’s a talented young actor, and his presence makes me eager to see how the rest of his career pans out. That is, once he finds better material than The Hundred Foot Journey.
The rest of the cast members are paper-thin and forgettable. Yes, that includes the talented and charismatic Helen Mirren, who can’t help but look and feel like she’s phoning it in here. I suppose that’s not entirely a bad thing, considering I’d rather forget a mediocre performance rather than remember a bad one. But the plain fact of the matter is I don’t care about these characters, and their performances don’t help remedy my disinterest in the slightest. The most tragic case comes in French actress Charlotte Le Bon, who portrays Hassan’s love interest with a cute smile and sweet laugh to bump. Her performance is not the problem, it’s the one that she’s asked to portray. And she’s asked to portray a ditzy, typecast love interest that would be more entertaining if it were a Chef Barbie doll instead of a live actor.
The actors can’t help but give such bland performances. It’s not their effort that’s the problem, its the material that they’re given. The screenplay, written by Eastern Promises scribe Steven Knight, is complacent and predictable, and asks us to simply go through the motions instead of challenging us by making new ones. The direction by Lasse Halstromm is especially mediocre, as it seems the most involvement he had in directing was just pointing the camera and saying “action” to his castmembers.
Halstromm’s involvement isn’t so much surprising as it is disappointing. He’s done great movies before (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Cider House Rules, Hachi), and yet, he’s equally had many lackluster ones as well (Dear John, Safe Haven, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen). What is with this guy? Does he make one great movie, then decide he’s on break for the next three? He can draw out great performances from his actors. He’s not only done before in previous movies, but in this one too. In one scene, after finding massive success as a professional chef, Hassan tastes a friend’s fried curry, and the spices and the freshness of the tastes brings him back to the memories of his home, his family, and the joy he once found in cooking. This was the most magical moment from the picture, as the tears Dayal gives in the scene feel genuine, honest, and real. Why couldn’t the rest of the movie be like that? What excuse does Halstromm have to make one great scene, then five bad ones after that? Is it just plain lack of effort? If that is the case, then that is the most pitiful excuse for the state of this movie. Many ambitious filmmakers can’t make the films they wanted simply because of a lack of budget or resources. To have the budget and resources and not skillfully use them is a slap in the face for all of the up-and-coming filmmakers out there.
There was one moment in the film where Madame Mallory dipped her spoon into one of Hassan’s sauces, took one taste, then threw the entire meal in the trash. Helen Mirren should have done the same thing to the script.