The Hundred-Foot Journey: A Few Steps Too Long

A few nights ago, I ordered a delicious pad thai, gobbled up over half of the mouth-watering
contents, then put the rest in my fridge to demolish later. When I hungrily dragged
out the leftovers a couple days later, the bland mush strangely paralleled the film I had just sat down to watch: The Hundred-Foot Journey. Both the 2014 culinary film and my takeout were captivating at first, but soon became lackluster and stale as I dug deeper. 

Directed by Lasse Hallström, best known for his film Chocolat, The Hundred-Foot Journey appeared delectable on first bite. It
begins with a fast and lively pace to establish its two plot lines, which are linked by their shared culinary theme. The opening scenes made for an intriguing premise that,
when mixed with a large amount of cooking images, carries the movie for the first half—but no further. 

The film begins with the Kadam family, a group of food-loving cooks, previously cheerful, but now forced to leave their home in India for France after a politically motivated attack on their restaurant, which kills a member of their family. Though the death traumatizes the Kadam family, the film spends little time showing this grieving, as it appears to be striving for the genre of light-hearted comedy. Lingering more on their difficult yet comedic transition between cultures, The Hundred-Foot Journey stresses the need for family, something they will always have, no matter the place. 

As told through the eyes of one of the Kadam sons, Hassan (Manish Dayal), the
family is uprooted from their home and thrown into a completely new country,
culture and cuisine. And then they meet their new neighbor.

Directly across the street from the Kadam family’s new home
lies the small village’s only restaurant and its owner (played
by Helen Mirren). Quickly, the film draws a contrast between the Kadam family and their new neighbor, the
fussy and traditional (yet masterful) chef Madame Mallory. Really, her
name says it all.

Mirren’s astute performance was the highlight of the film. Regularly type-casted
as a stuffy-yet-powerful European woman (you may remember her from The Queen), Mirren has the role down to
a T. She oozes pretentiousness as she looks down upon “Papa,” the head of the
Kadam family. Yet, after her predictable change of heart later on, we are able to
forgive her previous actions.

Dayal also fits nicely into his role of a sensible
(sometimes verging on annoying) but charming lead. He grounds the story
between the two somewhat caricature-like adults (his father and Madame Mallory)
and gives us someone we can root for. 

From the beginning, The
Hundred-Foot Journey
’s plot is laid out on the table in front of us:
the clashing of two cultures, heightened by proximity and similar
occupation. 

The Kadam’s colorful and spicy dishes don’t match Madame Mallory’s preference for tiny and simple meals. The Kadams play music and paint their entrance
in bright and welcoming colors; Madame Mallory detests noise and appears to
live in beige. Unfortunately, this struggle quickly loses its effect as the
other small plot lines hold little interest.

So what is the film missing? A captivating romance, of course.

To appeal to all audiences, there is a focus on both Papa
and Hassan’s generations. Though the two characters are likable and
compelling on their own, their romantic journeys are less than engaging. Hassan has a love interest who, quite predictably, works as a cook in Madame
Mallory’s restaurant. 

But the forced and unnatural interactions between the
young chefs cause dialogue to fall flat and the side plot line to lose appeal.
I will spare the spoiler of Papa’s love interest in the hopes that it will allow for
a moment of intrigue, but I’ll be shocked if you don’t guess where it is headed in the first
quarter of the film. 

The last third of the movie also leaves more to be desired, due to its lack of fresh conflict and new information. The initial clash between culture and generation
is simply not enough to last the two-hour-long film. Even for someone like me, who enjoys watching cooking shows for the sizzling omelets, bubbling curries and the fast chopping of vegetables, it begins to drag.

With solid characters, good acting and an interesting way
of looking at two very different cultures, The
Hundred-Foot Journey
isn’t a bad film; it’s mediocre. More chemistry between characters and less cheesy lines in the so-called romantic
scenes would have been much more enjoyable. A note to the filmmakers: Add in some real conflict
past the first 10 minutes or make the film shorter, and the movie could be a great one. 

That being said, the cinematography of The Hundred-Foot Journey did allow for a better distinction between Madame
Mallory and the Kadams. When focusing on the Kadams’ restaurant, the
camera flowed between hands chopping, stirring and mixing, feet and bodies
dancing. This lively movement was shown prior to shots of Madame Mallory’s stiff and proper kitchen. The filming perspective felt rigid
as it moved between cooking and frantic conversation. These distinctive filming
techniques allowed for a better understanding of not only the individual
restaurants, but also how they contrast.

The Hundred-Foot
Journey
ended like the taste of my leftover pad thai. I was left wishing it were
as good as it was when I had started and disappointedly aware that it was not. But don’t believe me,
just watch! 

Sawyer Henshaw SC ’17 is an English Major from Hawaii. Believe it or not, the film columnist wasn’t allowed to watch R-rated movies until she was 17 years old.

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