The Hundred Foot Journey

August, 2014, Comedy

 The Hundred-Foot Journey

 Summer’s end usually offers little of interest to even the most dedicated filmgoers; it’s a time when producers try for limited theatrical releases before their pet projects head into the world of DVD’s and cable television. So it’s interesting that this slight romantic comedy starring Helen Mirren about culture clashes amid the world of haute cuisine has caught the interest of so many moviegoers in the waning moments before Labor Day.

 Mirren plays Madame Mallory, haughty owner of a French restaurant in a small rural town distinguished only by her 1-star Michelin rating. When The Kadams, an improvised family of Indian restaurateurs, washes up on the shores of Mirren’s domain in their badly damaged van, she’s insulted by their decision to not only stick around but also to compete with her by opening their own spot directly across the street from her front door.

 Matters aren’t helped by the fact that her irascibility is matched, stroke for stroke, by Papa, patriarch of the Kadam family portrayed by Om Puri, an Indian actor with a staggering 256 screen performances to his credit. Squaring off against his female nemesis soon pits the members of his family against Mirren’s staff and before long an initial war of words descends into something much darker.

Fortunately, there’s a Romeo & Juliette dynamic to add to the plot; it turns out that Hassan, the youngest son of the Kadam family is an unschooled gastronomic genius, able to conjure up exquisite dishes by melding the best of French cooking with highlights from the spice-infused dishes of his native India. And when Mirren’s sous-chef Marguerite begins to make eyes at Hassan, this cinematic soufflé begins to bubble.

 Old pros Mirren & Puri glide through this confection with all the assurance their long careers provide while Manish Dayal (Hassan) and Charlotte Le Bon (Marguerite) bring an appealing freshness to roles that are little more than flavorful accents to this thoroughly predictable cinematic recipe.

 Thanks to its leads and the skills of gifted Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom, (Chocolat, Cider House Rules, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) this otherwise exceedingly slight bit of escapism wouldn’t be worth the time and effort required to see it – but even a hardened skeptic will have a hard time resisting it’s lighthearted if predictable charms.

The Verdict? A solid cast turns a tired plot into a pleasing diversion.

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