All the best scenes in The Hundred-Foot Journey take place on the 100-foot-wide rocky path between two restaurants in a provincial town south of France. It’s where two neighbors pitch dirty eye-for-an-eye battles, forge unlikely friendships, and learn that, sometimes, the greatest journey is right outside your gate.
Directed by Lasse Hallström (Chocolat), the film (rated PG for thematic elements, some violence, language, and brief sensuality) is about a simmering culinary and cultural war between the Kadams, a bereaved immigrant family from Mumbai, and Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), a haughty, obsessive widow. Madame Mallory governs Le Saule Pleureur, a venerable Michelin-starred restaurant—the fancy-schmancy kind that serves truffled pigeon en croute on hand-polished china with crowned napkins. Opposite the street, the Kadams resurrect a dilapidated building into the gleefully gaudy Maison Mumbai, an open-air, family-operated Indian bistro with boisterous music and a tandoori oven.
On their opening night, Papa Kadam (Om Puri) strides out in traditional costume and literally drags passersby into his gold-painted abode. He’s convinced that once these croissant-munching Gallic villagers taste his son Hassan’s (Manish Dayal) cooking, their appetites for bold spices will awaken. Meanwhile, Madame Mallory scoffs and sniffs from her window, wondering what kind of offensive-smelling fast-food curries these Indians will peddle until their business fails.
Turns out, Hassan is a culinary wunderkind. He’s the sort of foodie who claims London vegetables have “no soul, no life,” and flutters his eyelashes when he bites into a good tomato. When he woos Saule Pleureur’s rose-lipped sous chef Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), the two flirt by discussing mushrooms and sauce recipes.
Food provides an endless pot of metaphors for The Hundred-Foot Journey. It is history; it is family loyalty. It is innovation, tradition, a sign of superiority or inferiority. But mostly, there’s pleasure in food just being food—as demonstrated through luscious close-ups of plump egg yolks and sugar snowflakes.
If the movie sounds cheesy and predictable, that’s because it is. Like a steaming bowl of comfort food, The Hundred-Foot Journey is meant to make you feel good—until your stomach starts growling.