October 25, 2014

Film: The Hundred-Foot Journey Plods Every Step of the Way

 

Food film is heavy on fat, lean on content.

PHOTO COURTESY OF WALT DISNEY STUDIOS MOTION PICTURES

Film: <i>The Hundred-Foot Journey</i> Plods Every Step of the Way

Left to right, Om Puri,Manish Dayal and Helen Mirren star in Lasse Hallstrom's The Hundred-Foot Journey.

Cars that transform, adolescent reptiles and geezer action stars that need walkers would be one way to describe the crop of this summer’s Lacklusters. However, consider that two films about chefs (three if you count Jon Favreau’s superb Le Chef) and French cuisine have come out within a month of each other. How could this not be the story of the summer? Unlike Favreau’s terrific effort or Daniel Cohen’s fun but shallow puff pastry, Le Chef, Oprah and Steven Spielberg bring neither in The Hundred- Foot Journey.

The Haji Family moves to England seeking refuge and a new life after an election in Mumbai turned violent, leaving ruins of the family compound and the loss of their mother. After opening a restaurant in France through cosmic circumstance (mom), the family forms a quick rivalry with Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren) and her Michelin star restaurant located directly across the street.

If you couldn’t predict where the film was headed fast enough, Hassan Haji (Manish Dayal) develops a romance with the rival sous chef and emerges as a premier French chef who can reign in Michelin stars. Hassan gets lost in the competition and pretentions of haute cuisine until the right dish brings him back. It’s impressive on how many levels this film doesn’t work. Spielberg and Oprah both brought the drama and scenery but forgot to bring the characters and story as if they were some type of garnish. Even if they are executive producers, this rubber-stamping looks foolish.

Most of the problem lies with writer Steven Knight who is definitely struggling outside his comfort zone. Knight’s best work (Eastern Promises, Locke) have interesting characters but rely on plot to drive the film. Journey goes nowhere fast when the plot is non-existent and everything about the characters is known within the opening minutes. Director Lasse Hallstrom is guilty of not telling enough of a story in 120 minutes when the film would’ve been better at 90.

More appalling is the mindset of the film combined with the attitude American cinema has regarding Indian culture. Be it Slumdog Millionaire, Eat. Pray. Love., Life of Pi or the drivel that is The Hundred-Foot Journey, there is this underlying theme of (misplaced) mysticism and somehow some type of curry or a flashback featuring A.R. Rahman that holds the secret to understanding life. This says more about our own culture than theirs.

On the outermost layer, the American public could stand to be more opposed to Indian stereotypes. There’s no reason someone like Manish Dayal should be playing a doe-eyed cook hoping to make an omelet to impress an elderly white woman. Just like Aasif Mandvi should be playing roles other than a tech/Google guru as seen in The Internship. 1.2 billion people live in India. There are comedians, jerks and neurotics; there’s a good story being missed. Is it the value we are placing on Indian culture or the acceptance of the increasing shallowness of our own that we are watching on screen?

I would say that there are better films out right now but I do not want to lie. Food porn can be found on Twitter. This is pure gristle.