Lasse Hallström revisits familiar territory with The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014), a warmly lit but cloyingly corny and drama-free adaptation of Richard C. Morais’ novel of the same name. Talented cook Hassan (Manish Dayal) and his family – Papa (Om Puri) and his other children – are forced out of Mumbai when their restaurant is burnt to a cinder, with their mother still inside. After a brief stint in England, the family settle in France, opening an Indian restaurant in a picturesque rural village. It”s not all happy endings, however, as their arrival doesn’t sit well with Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), a snobbish widow with a popular, Michelin-starred restaurant a mere one hundred metres across the road.
Executive produced by Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg, The Hundred-Foot Journey has a lot of pedigree behind it, but is sadly unable to transcend its habit of skimming through information and any form of drama whatsoever. This leaves a film that, while easy on the eye thanks to the showcasing of mouth-watering foods, is dreadfully bland and prosaic. The script, penned by Steven Knight, lavishes in corny dialogue and mawkish sentimentality, yet never provides drama, nor any real moments of comedy or character development for the audience to chew on. This makes many of the film’s myriad subplots, whether it be Hassan’s burgeoning career or his romantic rapport with fellow cook Marguerite (played by French actress Charlotte Le Bon), soulless rather than the intended winsome.
Mirren, who slips into Mallory’s shoes with effortless ease and a spot-on French accent, adds some spice to proceedings, while Puri is arguably the star of the show as the proud, encouraging familial patriarch. He brings depth where there otherwise isn’t any and shares believable chemistry with Mirren. The same can’t be said for Dayal, who’s unable to raise Hassan beyond the wishy-washy character framework – a hindrance for both performer and viewer. Hallström, no stranger to culinary cinema having directed both Chocolat (2000) and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2011), succeeds for the most part in his role as director. But, like the cast, is limited by the terrible over-used culture stereotypes and trivial conflicts that the screenplay favours so much, and can even be accused of spurring them on with his directorial choices from time to time. There is, after all, no drama to be found here, and The Hundred-Foot Journey never lives up to its positioning as a culinary treat, let alone culture clash workings.