Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom has a penchant for making ‘nice’ films; that is, the type of feel-good films that are unlikely to cause any offence to anybody, except perhaps those who want a bit of substance in their cinematic consumption. Hallstrom’s films almost always look beautiful and quite often feature accomplished performers in a range of picturesque locations which, if nothing else, makes them great to look at, even if the story and/or the characters are somewhat lacking. As such, this latest offering from Hallstrom fits the bill. Despite being loaded with melodrama, cultural clichés and a somewhat predictable narrative arc, The 100-Foot Journey is a pleasant enough way to spend a couple of hours but, other than the gorgeous countryside, it is unlikely that much else will resonate with you beyond those moments immediately upon leaving the cinema.
The 100-Foot Journey is set in that most unique of places that only seem to exist on film; a world in which everybody speaks perfect English regardless of where the film is set and/or the cultural or ethnic background of the characters. I mean, this is set in France, but apparently it makes sense that everybody speaks English? Furthermore, the lead ‘French’ character is actually played by the very English Helen Mirren, so from the outset this film has some credibility problems. Is authenticity even necessary? Certainly, Hallstrom doesn’t think so and, whilst there are those for whom Mirren’s faux French accent will rankle, I suspect – with head shaking disbelief – that there are just as many more who will not be bothered by it. Of course, anything can be overlooked if the rest of what is on offer is so gobsmackingly good as to overcome such shortcomings, but that is not the case here. This is not an awful film by any means; it just isn’t anything particularly memorable. Mirren plays Madame Mallory, the cantankerous perfectionist who runs a Michelin-starred restaurant on the outskirts of a rural French town. She is far from impressed when Papa Kadam (Om Puri) and his family – having fled India when their restaurant is attacked in a political uprising – set up shop directly across the street. Yep, that’s right, just 100 feet away to be precise. A clash of cultures ensues as Madame Mallory sets out to undermine the efforts of the Kadam family in establishing their restaurant.
The main thrust of the narrative revolves around Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal), a talented chef and Papa’s pride and joy whose talents both infuriate and ultimately impress Madame Mallory. Will Hassan remain loyal to his family or seek fame and fortune elsewhere? Can Hassan and Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) – the sous chef in Mallory’s establishment (The Weeping Willow) – overcome the obstacles in their way and become one of the most attractive on-screen couples of recent times? I don’t need to be overly cautious about giving too much away here because there are no surprises in the answers to either of these questions. There is some fun to be had along the way though as Puri’s Papa refuses to be intimidated by Madame Mallory. The support players are somewhat clichéd – from the dutiful Indian daughter to the arrogant French chef to the gluttonous politician – and it is really the interplay between experienced campaigners Puri and Mirren that provides all of the best moments; their efforts to sabotage each other providing a few laughs. As much as she is all down-the-nose looks of derision and biting quips, he is jovial, boisterous and unwaveringly optimistic in his food, his culture and Hassan’s talents in the kitchen.
It all looks lovely – both the food and the lush landscape as we track through all four seasons – and it is when we leave this environment in the third act for a detour to Paris that the film loses whatever momentum it had. There is a remarkable similarity between this story and Hallstrom’s 2000 release Chocolat, which does lead to questions about whether the director – whose most recent output has included insipid Nicholas Sparks adaptations Dear John and Safe Haven – has anything new or original to say. Whilst The 100-Foot Journey is not a complete disaster due to the talents of the performers involved, it is certainly a long way from the quality of Hallstrom’s earliest films such as My Life as a Dog and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.