The Hundred-Foot Journey is a novel that was written by Richard C. Morals and was first published in July 2010. It told a story about two restaurants in Lumiere, France and uses the hundred foot distance between the restaurants to represent the gulf between different cultures. It’s a story that easily translates to the visual medium, and since people love movies about food (did you see Chef yet? Rent it as soon as it comes out on DVD on September 30th), it was an inevitable choice to make a movie.
The director of this movie, Lasse Hallstrom (Eating Gilbert Grape, The Cider House Rules, Casanova, and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen), also did one other super beautiful food-type movie based on a book, Chocolat. That one was changed slightly from the book – and I have to say, I liked the movie better, it had a happy ending; the book didn’t.
I do not know how much different this is than the book, but the movie is charming and entertaining. The story begins as Hassan and family are entering Europe after living in England for some time. They had left India after losing their family restaurant in a fire. The fire also took the life of Hassan’s mother, who had taught him how to cook. As they are traveling, the car breaks down just outside of the tiny, picturesque French city of Lumiere (is it the same village from Chocolat? It looks like it). Papa (that’s the only name he’s given in the movie) decides to stay and buy an old abandoned restaurant across from a super-fancy elite French restaurant with one Michelin star, run by a stuffy French lady. From this point on, the movie pretty much proceeds as you expect it to. The family prepares the restaurant with the intention of bringing traditional Indian cuisine to this rural French town. They begin with an inevitable friction-filled relationship with Madame Mallory who owns the fancy place across the street. At first they struggle to get customers, but eventually build a following.
Hassan inevitably gets sweet on the young woman who works for Madame Mallory, Marguerite. Hassan wants to learn the classic French cooking styles, and after Marguerite tells him Madame Mallory can tell with one bite whether or not someone will become a great chef, he becomes determined to get the chance to impress her. After the one inevitable racism scene (Madame Mallory basically suggests war, then gets upset when her head chef acts on it); and the inevitable semi-reconciliation that happens afterwards, Hassan gets the opportunity to cook for Madame Mallory. Hassan goes over to study in her restaurant, where he inevitably becomes a star, which then gets her another Michelin Star, then he goes on to work in a super fancy Paris restaurant to try to get them another Michelin Star. Along the way, he inevitably realizes that he is lonely and that his super fancy cooking has no heart. While he is away, Papa and Madame Mallory strike up an inevitable friendship. At the end (spoiler alert) he heads back to his family, and settles in to work with Marguerite….Inevitably.
The movie is fun and touching – and predictable, which is not necessarily a bad thing. I never mind predictable if the execution is still at a high level. In terms of the food itself, it looked lovely, but this movie didn’t make me nearly as hungry as the movie Chef. The cast is pretty fantastic.
- Helen Mirren owns this movie top to bottom and is extraordinary as Madam Mallory. I wondered if the fake French accent would bother me, but it didn’t. Her absolute genius shows in the moments when Madame Mallory’s carefully crafted icy exterior begins to thaw and she is forced to show how she really feels.
- Om Puri plays Papa, and he does a beautiful job. He creates a character who is stubborn and determined, but also genuinely loving with his family. I particularly enjoy once he and Madame Mallory find some common ground and grow closer.
- Manish Dayal plays Hassan, and is basically the star of the film. He’s young, attractive, and certainly capable of carrying the picture. More impressively, he can go toe to toe with Helen Mirren. His emotions show clearly on his face, which works wonderfully in this movie, especially near the end when he realizes he has everything he could have dreamed of, but it’s not really what he wants.
- Charlotte Le Bon plays Marguerite and she’s really French. She’s impressive in the movie because Marguerite ends up being very layered. She’s at first very helpful to Hassan and his family, then as starts working in the same kitchen she works in, she grows jealous that the ascension through the ranks comes so easily for him.
- Amit Shah plays Hassan’s older brother Mansur who has to step into the cooking duties after Hassan goes across the street. He basically serves as comic relief through most of the movie – arguing with both Hassan and their father.
- Farzana Dua Elahe plays Mahira, Hassan’s sister, she has very little to do – but I did enjoy the one scene where her father encourages her to stand in the street in front of their restaurant and smile to bring in customers, it’s well-done and pretty funny.
- Clement Sibony plays Jean-Pierre, the head chef in the kitchen of Madame Mallory’s restaurant. He’s perfectly arrogant and evil, and really never strays from that one-note.
The movie is well-crafted, and certainly fun. It moves quick, and while it is exceptionally predictable, it is entertaining. Overall, I enjoyed it, but I didn’t love it.
7 out of 10 – not nearly as good as Chef. Gained points for the scenery, lost points for Hassan moving on so quickly. Gained points for when Hassan realizes he should come home. Lost points in that really, I felt like there was not enough food in this food movie. Gained points for all the market sequences, those were fun.
Bonus Video 1: Lasse Halstrom’s Casanova – a great performance from Heath Ledger in a really entertaining movie.
Bonus Video 2: Chef trailer
Bonus Video 3: Cast Interviews