Title: The Hundred-Foot Journey
By: DreamWorks Studio & Harpo Films
Seen on: September 6
When a film is produced by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, you know is has to be good. When it has Helen Mirren in it, it will be good. And The Hundred-Foot Journey is good. It’s subtle, it’s funny, it’s heartfelt, and it’s actually not a romantic comedy. I say that last one, because the trailers I had seen and the idea that those left me with, was that this was going to be a story about a boy from India who falls in love with a girl in France, with some cooking on the side. Oh, how I was wrong.
The Hundred-Foot Journey is about a family from India that tries to settle down somewhere in Europe to open their own Indian restaurant. When their car brakes down in the French country side, the father of the family (Om Puri) falls in love with a house – and restaurant space – in a tiny village. Only problem? It is right across from an extremely traditional French restaurant on its way to a second Michelin star. And the owner (Helen Mirren) is – if possible – even more traditional. It is the beginning of a feud between the two restaurant owners that both staff and family members get caught up in. Underneath that is the story of a boy (Manish Dayal) that wants to become a chef. A real chef. His late mother taught him how to cook, but he wants an actual education in an actual kitchen. You see where this is going, right?
But there is so much more to this film than that. There is real angst from the story of how they got to Europe; their restaurant and home in India was burned down with the mother of the family still inside due to political circumstances and they had to flee the country, and in an attempt to ruin the new restaurant the chef from the French restaurant tries to burn it down. Hassan gets hurt and it is all a big emotional flashback to what had happened back in India. There is real comedy based on (exaggerated, yes) stereotypical Indian behaviours and traditions (the opening night scene is hilarious and please do pay close attention to the scheming going on from both Madame Mallory and Papa), but also the French traditions and British stiff upper lip. And there are real life hard decisions; Hassan falls in love with Marguerite, the souse chef at the French restaurant, but their jobs prevents them from starting a relationship. And when Hassan gets the chance to go to Paris and build a real career, he has to choose between that and Marguerite.
And there are real journeys; while it is exactly one hundred feet from one door to the other door, the real journey is from France to India. From French tradition to Indian tradition. From distrust to understanding, and even love. And it is all done with subtlety, grace, humour, and good acting. Helen Mirren is always good, in any part she plays. The French Madame with a stick up her *ss is something she can do in her sleep, but her real journey happens when she finds out her chef tried to burn down the neighbouring restaurant and people got hurt. That’s her turning point, her real emotional pivotal point, and Helen Mirren plays it flawlessly. Papa (Om Puri) is every bit the stereotypical Indian head of family we all have in our minds. He’s rude, stuck in his own traditions and ways, gruff, but sad and lonely inside after the loss of his wife. His journey is one of acceptance and letting go of safety, and Om Puri plays both sides with charm and sympathy. Despite his roughness at times, you can’t help but love him.
Finally Hassan, played by Manish Dayal, goes on the biggest journey of them all. He goes from little boy glued to his mother’s hip in the kitchen, to aspiring chef in his family’s restaurant, to love-sick boy with an impossible crush, to the newest rising star in French cuisine. He is charming and sweet, but never clichéd. And because the romance storyline isn’t the focus, the audience gets to really focus on Hassan’s story and development. Kudos to the filmmakers for balancing it all out perfectly. Manish Dayal carries the film and he does so fabulously. His character captures you and you root for him and feel for him. He is every bit believable and real, and Manish Dayal’s performance really inspired me to look into the rest of his work.
Overall, I was really surprised by this film. It could have been just another romantic comedy about food, but it isn’t. It honestly, really isn’t. Then again, Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey kind of know what they’re doing, don’t they?