Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Hundred-Foot Journey






It can be useful, say when grandma's in town, for a movie as innocuous and blandly palatable as Lasse Hallstrom's "The Hundred-Foot Journey" to be playing.

You could write the script in your sleep. As food porn goes, it's well below the level of "Big Night" or "Babette's Feast" - more on the order of this year's "Chef." What keeps the movie from coagulating, though, is the presence in particular of the legendary Om Puri as the patriarch of the Kadam family, who settle in Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val in the south of France and open an Indian restaurant across the street from Madame Mallory's (Helen Mirren) Michelin-starred culinary temple. (This after a fire burns their Mumbai restaurant and claims the life of Puri's wife in a scene, to quote verbatim from my review of "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen," "so laughably staged Hallstrom may get the nod as the worst director of action in film history.")

The mischievous flicker in Puri's eye lights up his war of wills with the widow Mallory, as each hits the farmer's market to buy out the ingredients on the other's upcoming menu. When - in another poorly staged scene - xenophobes bomb Puri's restaurant and scrawl "La France aux Fran├žais" on his wall, Mirren perceptibly softens, and a tender and halting courtship commences. It dovetails with that between Kadam's prodigal, cooking-obsessed son Hassan (shyly swarthy Manish Dayal) and Madame's sous-chef Marguerite (ubiquitous Charlotte Le Bon, whom Hallstrom evidently instructed to fade away and radiate). The key players are all highly appealing, some of Hallstrom's visuals (always his key strength) are gaspingly beautiful, and by the end, when Puri castigates Hassan for partnering with Marguerite on a new restaurant before he could negotiate the terms ("You spoiled the whole game"), I'd been won over.

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