Food can be a common language.
Enter DreamWorks’ The Hundred-Foot Journey, a tantalizing romantic comedy that strives to find the heart of a man through food.
Based on the 2010 novel with the same name, the film introduces us to the Kadams, who have left their native India for a new start in the picturesque village of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val in the south of France. In a somewhat strange sequence that takes place during the customs process, each family member retells part of their back story to a customs agent. We are told they were once successful restaurateurs until a political upheaval left them with no restaurant, no home and no matriarch.
Mama Kadam played a crucial role in her son Hassan’s culinary upbringing and introduced him to the joys of cooking. Without her, Papa Kadam (played gloriously by Om Puri) must carve out a new life for his five children. As they drive through France to destination unknown, the brakes of their beat-up vehicle falter. A lovely young French woman named Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) happens upon their wreck and helps the family out, and Hassan (Manish Dayal) has his “meet-cute” with his future paramour.
The family settles down in the quaint French town and opens an Indian restaurant, the Maison Mumbai, which sits exactly 100 feet (they measured) away from prickly proprietress Madame Mallory’s (Helen Mirren) Michelin-starred classical French restaurant, Le Saule Pleureur. The cultures clash and a culinary war ensues, which results in a lot of comedic antics and one-liners: “If your food is as good as your music, I suggest you turn it down.”
Some may have a hard time following along with the sprinkling of French and Indian terms without subtitles, but who needs subtitles when Mirren can convey such strong emotion with just her posture. To steal a line from Madame Mallory, it’s that “subtlety of flavors” that keeps the film grounded.
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom, who is known for films with food and drink in their titles (Chocolat, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Cider House Rules), the story here paces along at a slow simmer. However, the scenery and acting craftmanship of Mirren and Puri make the movie a satisfying and scrumptious affair of the heart.