The Hundred Foot Journey
This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 3rd August 2014
There’s no need to fight it. After all, you can’t set a film in India without saturating the screen in the obligatory bright colours and vibrant sounds of that exotic continent, and curiously The Hundred-Foot Journey is made all the better by its adherence to cliché.
The bestselling novel has been brought to cinematic life by that paragon of celluloid adaptations, Lasse Hallstrom, whose latest tale bears more of a narrative resemblance to Chocolat than his Oscar-winning The Cider House Rules. The man clearly knows how to deliver a pop hit from a pop book: first casts a movie legend (where here we have Dame Helen Mirren and Indian legend Om Puri, back then it was Judi Dench, Juliette Binoche and Michael Caine, respectively). Then he enlists someone to write a lively script, before lavishing the story in lush production design and an enchanting soundtrack. It’s not subtle, but despite the formula in this case it’s nonetheless intoxicating.
The Hundred-Foot Journey’s rather charming tale transports a grieving family from Mumbai to Europe to start their new life, where the proud father is stubbornly determined to open an Indian restaurant – in rural France, directly opposite the local Michelin-starred eatery which is run by a haughty grande dame. The inevitable slapstick of unfriendly rivalry that arises between the racist French restaurant and the naïve newcomers is tempered by some lovely performances from the more earnest younger cast, notably the dashing Manish Dayal and the beguiling Charlotte Le Bon (who’s so French you think she must be putting it on – but she’s not).
Aided by energetic photography which includes a nicely choreographed tracking shot and plenty of market porn of French produce, Hallstrom rather overdoes the sunsets and lens flares but remarkably manages to deliver a surprisingly touching story through it all.
It may feel as though the story moves a little too fast at times, the travails of many a book adaptation which seeks to be faithful to its source material. But it’s impossible not to fall in love with the French village, the charismatic Indian son who is given a life-changing opportunity, and even Mirren’s initially mannered acting. The audience I was with laughed uproariously throughout, as this cross-cultural tale won their hearts and stomachs.