Film Review: The Hundred Foot Journey

I hate to say it because it’s clichéd and cheesy but Helen Mirren is apparently like a bus! You go for years and years and years without seeing a single film she has been in and then suddenly, you watch two in two days. And what makes this even more surprising is that I was prepared to give her a second chance after she left me so repulsed by her personality and tone in the Woman In Gold.

I hadn’t actually heard much, and certainly nothing memorable, about The Hundred Foot Journey. I have vague memories of it getting a small and short lived cinema release, but I can’t remember exactly when. And the only reason I was even contemplating watching it now was that my Mother wanted to see it and I don’t refuse to watch much, especially when somebody else is paying!

Lasse Hallstrom & Om Puri - The Hundred Foot Journey

I did, therefore, do a bit of research before hand, about enough to understand it was about a French restaurant in competition with an immigrating Indian eatery directed by Lasse Hallström, who’s back catalogue includes Salmon Fishing In The Yemen and Chocolat, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and The Cider House Rules. Films which I have seen and been completely hit and miss to the enjoyment I have taken from them. I hated What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, enjoyed Salmon Fishing and was left some what unfussed by the others. Hallström seeming unable to produce a consistent end product.

This time around though he’s left me almost baffled by how I feel about his film. I have thoroughly enjoyed it but at the same time found it rather monotonous and boring. I think the problem is that it has somehow managed to create a story that on the surface is dull and disinteresting; and yet, the moment you start to look beneath it, to look at the relationships and attitudes rather than the simple personalities the characters it somehow comes alive more and warms up. It does have some major issues though. To start with it just feels too polished and glossy. I kept getting this idea that the film didn’t know where to position itself narratively. In it’s heart it wants the humility of a foreign language film, you can see it desperately trying to be Hollywood’s comedic answer to the realism of The Lunchbox, but because it has Helen Mirren, a big name actress leading the way, it doesn’t dare take risk. It plays it all a bit too safe and just ends up a muddled mess.

This is highlighted best by the fact that throughout the film you are never sure if a) you are missing the subtitles or b) how much of the dialogue you are meant to understand. Large passages are either spoken untranslated or at a pace that makes them inaudible. Thankfully, it’s not a complicated or difficult story to follow so it doesn’t destroy the film, but it does become annoying, especially when they converse in French to literally moments later translate it into English for the benefit of a character on screen, in an unsubtle attempt to fix the problem that feels more insulting than helpful. It’s over-salting the pot to start the food analogies!

Manish Dayal, Charlotte Le Bon & Om Puri - The Hundred Foot Journey

The film is also seriously slow. It takes a long long time to get going and when it does get up to it’s full pace, which is still nothing more than a gentle jog, everything is continually dragged out. It’s 2 hours long, but it feels more like three. It’s feels like it’s never going to end. The only saving grace to this tortoise like speed is that the film surprisingly warms up as it goes. Finishing in a much more inviting and emotional story than the once you’re dealt with for the opening three-quarters.

Looking at the cast, it is essentially four spot lights and a larger support you can quickly forget. Obviously there is Helen Mirren, who works visually as the strict, arrogant restaurant owner because she fits the tone of the film. But once again her voice doesn’t. She speaks with a French accent, often in French and it just feels wrong. Especially, as once again just like Woman In Gold, when she has to increase the passion in her voice, she loses the accent and slips back into an English overtone. I must admit though, the other three leading performers: Manish Dayal, Charlotte Le Bon and Om Puri are brilliant, likeable and for me are the reason I enjoyed the film so much. I think it helps that unlike Mirren, they are not attempting to being something they are not on top of the character they play. Puri is stunning as the stuck in his ways father determined to do what he believes is right come what may, while the relationship between Dayal and Le Bon just oozes charm. The characters may be a little stereotypical, but together they look honest and real with a true chemistry draws you into. You’ll never meet them in real life but you’re happy to hang out with them on screen.

Manish Dayal (Darkness) - The Hundred Foot Journey

Sadly though, aside from a few likeable characters, there are just more issues to mention. The film centres on food and at times resembles more a faux-dressed photoshoot of ingredients and dishes than real world cuisine. The problem with all the false imagery is that it lacks any punch. It looks visually stunning but you just can’t taste it, smell it. It’s just a overly saturated image on screen that never feels real and never gets your taste buds salivating. Worse still, is that when the film isn’t highlighting it’s food it’s plunging you into darkness. Huge portions of the film take place in virtual blackout. Often with only half the screen or less not a dismal pitch blackness. It compacts everything so badly that you actually find it hard to watch. It’s too focused and makes you feel uneasy because you physically cannot see the bigger picture.

As I said at the start though, I truly don’t know quite how to feel about The Hundred Foot Journey because it has some many issues that I shouldn’t be preparing it for future worse films of 2015 lists. But I’m not. Because I actually enjoyed it; I think I know why they, because I think it’s played a clever trick in that the way it warms up and ends as a charming, if implausible, tale has left me remembering the few good points more than the hundreds of bad that went before. And what’s even more strange, is that almost feel I’d happily watch it again, even though I’d know I’d be just as bored if I did.

8 out of 10 stars (8 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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