Release Date: 5th September 2014
Running Time: 122 minutes
Director: Lasse Hallström
Starring: Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal, Charlotte Le Bon
The successes of Slumdog Millionaire and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel have led to something of an obsession with Indian culture in Western cinema. The mysterious and colourful sub-continent is the perfect subject matter for middle class daydreaming, while a vague understanding of their complicated religions allows for a never ending opportunity to spout feel good pseudo-philosophy. Step forward The Hundred-Foot Journey, an adaptation of Richard C. Morais’ novel about a fish-out-of-water Indian family who attempt to open a restaurant in the picturesque French countryside, directly across the street from a Michelin Starred competitor.
Narratively speaking, it’s a disaster. Director Lasse Hallström clearly embraces the foodie theme, seemingly all too happy to to bung all the ingredients together and hope for the best. Is it a film about an eccentric family, forced into living a nomadic existence, searching for a place to ply their trade? Or is it about Helen Mirren’s snooty restaurant owner, obsessed with obtaining a second Michelin Star for her late husband’s eatery (#firstworldproblems)? Or could it be a rags to riches tale about a talented chef blending techniques from the east and west to rise to the top of his profession?
All of these issues get touched upon briefly, but it isn’t long before they are swept aside for the next dreary topic. That being said, the two hours this film lasts crawls along at an escargot’s pace. Making a film that feels rushed and over-long at the same time is quite the achievement, but it does take a long time to go that hundred feet. What is most frustrating is that Hallström is clearly capable of so much more, however My Life as a Dog and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape this is not.
There is nothing hugely offensive about anything on display here. As a whole it is competently shot, acted and scored. What offends the most are all the efforts taken to make it as inoffensive as possible. It is a story that contains the tragic loss of beloved family members, political violence causing a family to seek international asylum, and the racist underpinnings of a small village. These are all weighty subjects, but Hallström is so frightened of losing the ‘feel-good family comedy’ vibe that he is constantly treading on egg-shells; none of these issues are remotely given the time they deserve. It is this complete lack of effort to tackle any of life’s important issues or to try something even approaching daring that makes The Hundred-Foot Journey such a disappointment. A complete lack of spice and flavour; honourable failure is only half right.