I suppose the first sign that The Hundred Foot Journey had found a place in my good books was my near-instant rush to locate Indian food the second the credits started to roll. Or, based on my greeting from the nearby restaurant owner, the fact that I clearly wasn’t the only one who’d gone straight from the theatre to the food. But given that the first half of the film is just a showdown between Indian and French cuisine as a result of a newly opened restaurant in a food-driven French town, I guess that’s not much of a surprise–just fair warning.
I’m assuming the heart-warming tale–the kind of thing you want to curl up with right after you stream Love Actually into your veins as the snow starts falling–will go down even better when I can watch it with the food already in front of me. Because all other things aside, Journey is now top of my list for food movies that send me straight to the kitchen. This comes as no surprise, since it’s also from Lasse Hallstrom, director of my other food-binge fave, Chocolat.
What makes The Hundred Foot Journey so good, aside from the food porn on full display, is that, just like Hallstrom’s other work, there’s plenty of heart to go with the dishes being served up. I also couldn’t help but feel for Hassan (Manish Dayal) and his family’s struggle to find a new home after violence drives them out of India under the weight of a devastating loss.
And while plenty of the emotional journey of rebuilding is delivered by Hassan, his family does a great job of stealing the show–especially Om Puri as his energetic, entrepreneurial father whose dedicated, if at times stubborn, belief in his family’s abilities is pretty inspiring. Not to mention Papa’s furious back and forth with Helen Mirren’s Madame Mallory, which ends up being a far more captivating love story than Hassan’s.
Aside from those big arcs, or Hassan’s expected rise in fame as he faces off against Mallory’s Michelin star-winning restaurant, the movie pulls off what some more recent, grandiose films of its kind never quite could. While Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and others tried to mine some of the developments at work here–generations learning from each other, belated second chances at love–The Hundred Foot Journey does the opposite and lives in the quiet moments. This is why it’s impressive that the movie tackles bigger issues–first by driving the family out of India and charting their wayward attempts to find a new home, and again by dealing with the racism in the community–fueled both literally and metaphorically by Mallory’s competition with the small restaurant across the street.
But what really sold me on the movie and guaranteed I’d be revisiting The Hundred Foot Journey for more than the food was yet another quiet scene that saw Hassan sharing his sous-chef’s homemade meal while surrounded by the elaborate kitchen of an upscale French restaurant. Against the sterile counters, the characters’ exchange tapped into the real passion behind Hassan’s cooking, that food feeds more than just our stomachs. And that’s what it feels like this film is trying to do too.