The Hundred Foot Journey is… wait, isn’t France on the metric system?

Continuing my impromptu culinary movie adventure.

I had this one recommended to me by the same person who recommended Burnt after I watched Chef. But only once the opening credits started did I learn that both Burnt and The Hundred Foot Journey were written by the same screenwriter, Steven Knight. He also wrote and directed Locke, and is co-creator and screenwriter on the series Taboo. It seems that Steven Knight has found two very specific niches: Michelin Star chefs and angry Tom Hardys.

The 30.48 Metre Journey is about the Kadam family, who ran a family restaurant in Mumbai. Young Hassan (Manish Dayal) is growing to be a savant when it comes to cooking, but a fire destroys the restaurant and kills Hassan’s mother. The family travels overseas looking for new opportunity and ends up settling in a small French village.

With Hassan as head cook, they open an Indian restaurant named Maison Mumbai. But it happens to be across the road from a restaurant named Le Saule Pleureur, a One-Michelin Star restaurant vying for its second. The owner, Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren) isn’t happy with a “classless” Indian restaurant opening across the road, so tries to get it shut down. But the Kadams, particularly Papa Kadam (Om Puri) aren’t leaving very easily. Meanwhile, Hassan discovers the fine techniques behind French cuisine, combines it with the earthiness of Indian cooking,and might just be able to use the fusion of the two to bring everyone together.

Right off the bat I found the food imagery more evocative and beautiful than in Burnt. And that’s on both ends of the spectrum, the gorgeously down-to-Earth colours of the Indian cooking, and the finery of the French cooking. If you’re after food porn, The Hundred Foot Journey has it. Not heaps of it, but enough to make you want to cook an omelette or something afterwards.

TONIGHT, ON HELL’S KITCHEN.

I also like that there isn’t a “right way” or a “wrong way” in the movie. It would have been easy (and obvious) to have the down-to-Earth Kadam family arrive in a snooty French village and teach them a thing or two about life. But both the Kadams and the townspeople learn from each other. There’s merit in family recipes, there’s merit in modern food innovation, and there’s merit in classical cuisine. The only “wrong way” is being close minded and not seeing the value in anything but your own way.

Because of this, there aren’t outright villains in the movie (apart from the scumbags who vandalise the Kadam’s restaurant). The character arcs are all about becoming open minded, across the board. It’s a feel-good tale.

Which is also a bit of a problem with the movie. Everyone has basically the same arc. They’re set in their ways, then they come to see that the other side isn’t the enemy, then they become more open minded. Madame Mallory does it, Papa does it, Marguerite does it, Hassan does it by the end of the film. The two Kadam kids hate French food at first then enjoy treats from Madame Mallory later on.

I also found Hassan to be a bit of a non-character. Which is a shame, as he’s the lead in the movie. The actor is great. But there’s a stretch in the middle where he gets completely lost. There’s this whirlwind going around him between all of the supporting cast and Hassan is… off screen? In the kitchen? For much of the film he isn’t very active, just beavering away in the background until the movie decides that it’s time for him to be important.

Compare that to the two best characters in the movie — Papa and Madame Mallory. Both are constantly doing things that drive the plot forward in entertaining ways. It’s Papa who buys the restaurant, Madame Mallory who tries to sabotage it, Papa who bites back, Madame Mallory who changes her tune… Hassan floats along but doesn’t actually change the thrust of the story until he cooks an omelette for Mallory.

The movie is even more outlandish than Burnt with its portrayal of the high-end culinary world. When Hassan reaches Paris he’s instantly a celebrity chef, gracing the covers of magazines and even having his love life discussed on gossip TV. But it works better in The Hundred Foot Journey, because the story feels more like a fairy tale. Even the setting — two rival restaurants situated opposite each other in a idyllic French village — is the perfect setup for a fairy tale or children’s story.

That’s what I liked about the movie. When you step back and take it in, it’s a simple fairy tale. I almost wish they had leaned into that further, made it even more fanciful. As it is, the movie is straight down the middle between two possible extremes. Which is appropriate, I guess.

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