'The Hundred-Foot Journey'
When Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey team up to produce a movie, you know that schmaltz is inevitable. Toss in ‘Cider House Rules’ director Lasse Hallstrom and you’ve got super-schmaltz. The studio really should provide a bottle of wine with every ticket, because that’s the only way to truly enjoy a meal of pure cheese.
‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’ is such a nauseatingly manipulative and embarrassingly sentimental movie that it’s impossible to take seriously. The film tries so hard to win audiences over and make them cry that most viewers will be forced to scream “ENOUGH!” before storming out of the theater. The filmmakers act like those far-too-needy kids on the schoolyard who beg so hard to be liked that you can’t help but hate them. Even if you find yourself giving over to the movie out of pity or exhaustion, you simply must catch yourself and stop immediately. The people behind ‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’ must not be encouraged. If they aren’t told that what they’re doing is wrong and pathetic, they’ll never learn. Everyone involved in the movie is better than this. Hopefully, they’ll figure out what they’ve done. Hanging their heads in shame is optional, but encouraged.
Straight from the Oprah’s Book Club comes a story about racism with a gentle message about the importance of acceptance. There’s nothing wrong with that in theory. The trouble is that it’s painted in such broad strokes that the filmmakers may as well have just replaced scenes with title cards reading “Feel something!” or “Racism is bad!” That would have served the same purpose as the scenes in their place, and would have at least felt more honest.
The plot is about an Indian family that stumbles into a village in France looking to start their lives over. The son (Manish Dayal) is an incredible cook, so they open the first Indian restaurant in the history of the village. Unfortunately, they open it across the street from a Michelin-starred eatery owned by an obsessive and bitter woman played by Helen Mirren. She views the competition as a threat and does everything in her power to shut them down. But the food is so damn good that it catches on anyways, so Mirren is forced to work harder to ruin the business.
This causes racists in the village to vandalize and burn the restaurant, upon which Mirren suddenly has a change of heart. So, she makes the hundred-foot journey across the street to make peace. (Holy cultural acceptance metaphor, Batman!). She finally tastes the prodigy chef’s cuisine and it’s so good that she hires him on the spot. Oh, and Dayal is in love with a young French chef, and they flirt through food. Plus a bunch of other sappy crap happens. The movie is a real cheesy catchall.
From the title on down, ‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’ practices a brand of thunderous obviousness that would almost be admirable in its conviction and lack of irony were it not all so tediously dull and predictable. If there was a scene that had even a hint of subtlety in the screenplay, Lasse Hallstrom makes sure to crush it through his special brand of glossy overdirection. The characters are cartoonish, the script belongs on the Hallmark Channel, the direction should be taught in film schools as a textbook example of trying too hard, and the message is so old that you might find yourself coughing through all the dust.
There are exactly two reasons to watch the movie: the pretty shots of food and Helen Mirren. Thankfully, the Food Channel provides 24 hours of the former every day, and dozens of better movies offer the latter, so there’s no need to suffer through ‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’ for even those modest pleasures.
This is one of those movies that, when you watch the trailer, you feel like you’ve watched the whole movie. You know with the names involved that it won’t end on an unexpected and depressing note (the Indian cook commits suicide Mirren’s kitchen) or deviate at all from the trailer. In fact, it’s a trailer tailored to show how the movie is perfect for people who want a nice little story about racism/tolerance/food without actually getting worked up over what they see, or have their beliefs questioned.