“The Hundred-Foot Journey” is a dangerous movie to watch on an empty stomach. If you have dinner plans after watching this film, be prepared to eat yourself into a steep check.
Based on a novel by Richard C. Morais, “The Hundred-Foot Journey” is set in an idyllic contemporary French village and tells the story of a rivalry between two restaurants. The first is a local landmark that specializes in French cuisine and is busy every night catering to high-profile guests under the watchful eye of Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), a cutthroat competitor and cagey veteran of the restaurant business.
The second restaurant sits right across the street, 100 feet away. It is run by a family of Indian immigrants who came from Mumbai by way of England and are in the unenviable position of introducing a brand-new cuisine to a community that is more than satisfied with its own native fare. They are led by Papa Kadam (Om Puri), a thrifty and visionary patriarch who has been guiding the family ship ever since the loss of his wife during a riot back home.
On paper, the battle is little more than a rout, but Team India has a secret weapon: the Kadam family’s oldest son, Hassan (Manish Dayal). Tutored early by his mother prior to her death, Hassan has grown into a prodigy of a chef who has mastered his native cuisine and is setting his sights on his new country’s offerings.
The battle for culinary supremacy is lively and charming and it only gets more complicated as a relationship develops between Hassan and a pretty sous-chef on Madame Mallory’s crew named Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon).
But even while “The Hundred-Foot Journey” spends most of its time on the lighter end of the spectrum, the film also does a fine job of delicately addressing the issues of racism that plague the Kadam family throughout their travels and ultimately put the village’s restaurant duels into perspective.
The film’s only real flaw stems from the demands of its adaptation. On the one hand, it’s a charming, self-contained story about two competing restaurants and the vibrant personalities that drive them. But Hassan is the protagonist and as his story expands beyond the reach of the village, “The Hundred-Foot Journey” begins to strain into epic territory. The result is a two-hour film that feels about 15 minutes and one set piece too long.
But if you can deal with the uneven narrative — and in this case there’s no reason you shouldn’t — there is a lot to like about this film. The cast is bright and engaging, especially in the case of its leads. Mirren and Puri are delightful as they spar and jab, first over customers and later over the direction of Hassan’s future.
Hassan and Marguerite’s relationship is also fun to watch, though it would be unfair to label “Hundred-Foot Journey” a romantic comedy unless one of the two parties was the food itself. Seriously, this is a diabolical film to anyone on a diet. Just be glad there isn’t a 3-D option for this one.
“The Hundred-Foot Journey” is rated PG for some profanity, violence and mild sexuality.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. More of his work is at woundedmosquito.com.