The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014) ☆☆(2/4) : A sweet but mellow cuisine conflict

thehundredfootjourney03  “The Hundred-Foot Journey” is a sweet but mellow cuisine conflict which gets clumsily overcooked during its first half and then gets tediously undercooked during its second half. I like some ingredients of its main course, and it is surely not without charm, but I began to feel more bored as the movie was serving its treacle a way too long.

At the beginning, we hear about how Hassan (Manish Dayal) and his family come into the Europe continent after their temporary stay in UK. After losing their family restaurant business due to a violent mob attack involved with the local conflict between Hinduism and Islam in India, Hassan’s father, who also lost his dear wife because of this terrible incident, decided to move to England, but their settlement attempt in England was not very successful, and now they are going to move around the Europe continent for finding a new place they can settle, though they cannot speak foreign languages well except English (but we all know that this is the film where nearly everyone can speak English while occasionally switching to other languages).

After moving around for a while with their shabby van, Hassan’s family happen to come upon a small country village in France, and Papa (Om Puri) decides that this is a right place where they should resume their good old Indian restaurant business. To Hassan and his other siblings, their father’s decision is not very practical to say least, Papa is a stubborn codger usually adamant about whatever he decides from the first place, and Hassan and others have no choice but to follow their father’s decision.

Through a kind, helpful young woman named Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), who incidentally came across Hassan’s family when they had a trouble with their van on their first day in the village, Hassan and others see that this village can be an ideal place for restaurant business considering all those fresh ingredients available around the village, but they have one big problem they cannot possibly ignore. While Papa manages to buy a shabby place which was once a restaurant years ago (this curmudgeon seems to be as good at cutting price as my mother, who is always willing to take any troubles for paying as less as possible just like him), there is an upscale French restaurant right across the road, and we hear later that this very respectable restaurant, named “Le Saule Pleureur” (it means “The Weeping Willow”), was the main reason behind the closure of its competitor.

thehundredfootjourney01 Le Saule Pleureur is strictly managed by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), and she is not very pleased by her new neighbours across the road. While her proud restaurant got one sole Michelin star coveted by many restaurateurs around the world, she has desired for another Michelin star which is far harder to acquire (three-star rating is the highest as some of you know, but two-star rating is still a great honor to boast none the less), and she certainly does not welcome Papa’s new Indian restaurant, named “Maison Mumbai”, especially when it looks more likely than before that she will finally get her longtime wish.

The first half of the movie revolves around the barbed conflict between Papa and Madame Mallory, and we are served with a number of comic moments as both of them become more determined to tackle each other by any means necessary. While Madame Mallory seems to have the upper hand at first, Papa is someone who will not easily step back in front of obstacles, and Madame Mallory comes to see that her Indian opponent is not an easy match at all – especially when she gets an unexpected counterattack from Papa.

And then the movie suddenly halts and changes its direction in the middle of the story after the circumstance becomes a little darker to the dismay of both sides, and, sadly, it becomes less spicy than before as gradually focusing on Hassan’s burgeoning career. As an unqualified but talented cook who has grown his interest and skills since he was encouraged by his deceased mother, Hassan begins to extend his interest into the area of Western cuisine, and, not so surprisingly, he turns out to be very good at learning new things and mixing them with old things he learned before – and he becomes a serious competitor to Marguerite, who has worked as a promising sous chef in Madame Mallory’s restaurant.

thehundredfootjourney02 Now you will get a pretty good idea about what will come next, but the screenplay by Steven Knight, which is adapted from Richard C. Morais’ novel, reaches to the point of resolution too early, and the rest of the movie is filled with softy moments which flow across the screen without much dramatic weight. Besides being quite predictable, its plot becomes dragged as the circumstance around its characters are getting gentler and mellower, and the second half of the movie feels more like an extended epilogue stretched to one hour as a result.

As he did in his previous work “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” (2011), the director Lasse Hallström made a whimsical comedy film here, and it does have some appeal inside its half-baked overall result. Compared to those lovely cooking scenes in Jon Favreau’s “Chef” (2014), his movie does not look that delicious despite its nice occasional shots of cooking process, but the juxtaposition between two different cultures on the screen works at times. Helen Mirren and Om Puri, two veteran performers who can possibly be different from each other, play off well against each other during their scenes, and A.R. Rahman’ rambunctious ethnic score also makes an odd cultural mix with the peaceful rural atmosphere of French countryside.

“The Hundred-Foot Journey” is drenched in an appealing mood, but its story and characterization are too thin to maintain our interest (Although Manish Dayal and Charlotte Le Bon look good together, their characters’ romantic subplot is flat and uneventful even with their professional competition), and it even dilutes its flavors with more sappiness in the end. This is not an awful film at all, but its pot loses its steam too quickly, and I am afraid it will probably make you feel empty rather than hungry when it is over.

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