Starring Helen Mirren and Om Puri. Rated G.
Oprah’s fingerprints of approval are all over this glossy adaptation of Richard C. Morais’s novel about opposing tastes in a conservative part of France. The Hundred-Foot Journey is directed with Chocolat-glazed glee by Lasse Hallström, who turns the smallest moments of everyday life into hilarious high jinks, and removes the sting from truly dramatic moments.
The tale initially focuses on the Kadam family of Mumbai, forced to leave India due to sectarian violence. (No religions are specifically mentioned, but the book’s family is called Haji, suggesting their pilgrimage to Mecca.) Their patriarch, played with effortless authority by Om Puri, starts over in Europe and, after a rainy stay in England, settles by accident in the lower Pyrenees. (The film was mostly shot, by Sweden’s Linus Sandgren, in a spectacular region near Toulouse.)
Events centre on handsome son Hassan (Manish Dayal, actually born in South Carolina), the family’s in-house foodie, who yearns to master at least two of the world’s great cuisines. We learn nothing of dreams belonging to Hassan’s barely differentiated siblings, but do know that his dad has a massive stubborn streak—not least for opening an inexpensive Indian restaurant directly across the street from the region’s only Michelin-starred eatery, a snobbish maison run by the imperious Madame Mallory, played by a tight-jawed Helen Mirren.
Of course this means war, but Hassan is lucky that his main counterpart, a young sous-chef named Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), is wise and beautiful in the way only a bicycle-riding Frenchwoman can be. Almost everyone (including town mayor Michel Blanc) conveniently speaks English. The old-timers are especially fun to watch in this Life of Two Pies. The soothing script, by Stephen Knight, who recently wrote and directed the much edgier Locke, takes things slow over a food-filled two hours, complemented by exactly the music you would expect from Slumdog Millionaire’s A.R. Rahman.
Let’s put it this way: when Paris is mentioned, you know you’re going to see the Eiffel Tower within seconds. Still pleasant to behold, of course, but there’s not a lot here for palates in search of surprise.