Watching a movie that gets everything right- acting, writing, directing- can be as satisfying as eating a gourmet meal.
Such is the case with THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY (2014) a new comedy-drama about an Indian family opening a restaurant in France across the street— one hundred feet to be exact— from a renowned French restaurant, and what happens when the family crosses paths with the established restaurant’s owner, played with delectable precision by Helen Mirren.
THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY begins in Mumbai where the Kadam family runs their restaurant, but when election night riots destroy their eatery and take the life of their mother, Papa (Om Puri) moves his family to Europe in the hope of starting again. They settle in France, and Papa, a rather eccentric fellow, spies an abandoned restaurant and decides on the spot that this is where they shall open their new eatery, even though it’s situated directly across the street from one of the area’s most prominent restaurants.
The family tries to talk him out of it, but Papa is undeterred, and he quickly goes about setting things in motion, buying the property, and promoting his son Hassan (Manish Dayal) as the best Indian chef in the land, all to the chagrin of Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren) who owns the French restaurant across the street and cringes at the idea of competition.
And so she sets out to quash the Kadam family, but Papa is just as determined as she is, and the two go back and forth trying to one-up the other. Meanwhile, Hassan befriends Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) one of Madame Mallory’s up and coming chefs, and the two begin a relationship which is playfully competitive until Hassan approaches Madame Mallory and prepares a dish for her, proving to her that he is indeed a chef for the ages, who with the proper training, can help her achieve her goal of the restaurant earning the coveted second Michelin star, a critic rating that lifts restaurants to elite status. When Madame Mallory hires Hassan to work in her restaurant, it sets off a firestorm of events, as it changes the relationship between Hassan and Marguerite, and makes Papa accuse Madame Mallory of trying to brainwash his son, but Mallory is quick to point out that this is an opportunity for Hassan which will change his life forever.
THE HUNDRED FOOT JOURNEY is a highly entertaining and very satisfying movie. It’s got terrific acting, a topnotch directorial effort, and my favorite, an excellent script.
Top-billed Helen Mirren is sufficiently proper as Madame Mallory, the woman who at first wants nothing more but to shut down the Kadam family restaurant. But Madame Mallory is more than just a cold-hearted businesswoman, and Mirren does a terrific job making her a three-dimensional character. When her own chef takes things too far by setting fire to the Indian restaurant, Mallory doesn’t applaud or approve but quickly fires the young man.
Om Puri makes Papa a feisty yet easy to like character whose best scenes are those where he plays off Helen Mirren. When he wants to make an offer to buy the restaurant, Madame Mallory tells him it’s more than he can afford, and she says this because she heard he bartered for a discount at the local inn, to which Papa replies that his asking for a discount doesn’t mean he’s poor but that he’s thrifty. The two actors, Mirrin and Puri, share a great chemistry in this movie, for the most part as energetic adversaries, and they become even more likeable when they realize that they actually like each other.
But the best performance in the movie belongs to young Manish Dayal as Hassan. He is completely believable as the young man blessed with amazing cooking talent. He comes off as genuine and sincere. When he tells Marguerite that he has been hired to work at Madam Mallory’s restaurant, he expects her to be happy by the news, but when she’s not, he’s surprised, and you can see his innocence and the hurt he feels when she insinuates that he used their relationship to gain access to Madam Mallory, when that wasn’t what he had intended at all.
Charlotte Le Bon is also very good as Marguerite. She makes Marguerite attractive, talented, and smart, and she and Hassan make for a very likeable young couple.
Director Lasse Hallstrom captures the beautiful scenery of the French countryside, making this movie a picturesque treat from start to finish. The camera also captures the remarkable elegant dishes prepared in this film— don’t see this on an empty stomach!—- which will make your mouth water. You can almost taste the food. Likewise, Hallstrom captures the flavor of the small village, of the two restaurants across the street from each other, and of the people who inhabit both of them. It’s an intimate portrayal of these folks, and you’ll enjoy getting to know them and spending time with them for the two hours you sit in the theater.
The screenplay by Steven Knight, based upon the book by Richard C. Morais, tells a heartwarming story that is as moving as it is humorous. I laughed more during this movie than during some of the recent so-called mainstream comedies of late. The humor in THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY is smart and nuanced and stems from true situations.
The characters are all well-developed. I understood young Hassan’s passion for food and for cooking, and Papa’s need to take care of his family and his drive to make his new restaurant a success in spite of the odds against him, which means doing whatever it takes to get it done; and I understood Madame Mallory’s reasons for stomping out her competition, for wanting her restaurant— the passion of her life— to become the best it can be.
In some ways, THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY is predictable, but it still works. It’s a feel-good movie, and so you expect things to work out in the end for these characters, but when it does, it doesn’t feel fake or forced. These characters make their own destiny, and when you see them working as hard as they do, acting in ways that show they are real people, not cardboard caricatures who mindlessly step on others to get ahead, but simply work hard and respect those around them, you have no difficulty buying into the notion that they succeed in what they set out to do.
The dialogue is all first-rate, and like I said, I laughed more here than during some of the traditional Hollywood comedies which for some reason too often equate “stupid” with “funny.”
I wouldn’t be at all surprised if come Oscar time THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY receives nominations for Best Director, Screenplay, and acting by Manish Dayal, Om Puri, and Helen Mirren.
I thoroughly enjoyed THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY. It’s one of my favorite movies of 2014.