By Laurie Coker
Academy awarding winning actress Helen Mirren’s body of work scans decades and she has moved from sultry seductress and sinister schemers to stern, pinch-mouthed nitpickers and as played everything in between. She has remarkable talent for melding into a variety of unique and interesting characters and this she does in her latest film The Hundred-Foot Journey, directed by Lasse Hallström (Chocolat). Because of rich endearing characters and equally rich culinary imagery, The Hundred-Foot Journey is a deliciously sweet experience, in spite of its predictable plot.
Mirren is not alone in making this journey a pleasing one, but she does add the bite, along with Indian actor Om Puri. The pairing of Puri and Mirren is like watching moose lock horns. It is good fun actually, and it ends too soon, taking the bite out of the fight. Handsome Manish Dayal, whose expressive eyes demonstrate every emotion, plays Hassan, a cook with a natural talent for the art. And Madame Mallory (Mirren) and Paja (Puri) go to battle when he and his family open up a traditional and loud (in more ways than one) across the street from the Madame’s Michelin Star rated classical French restaurant in a quaint village in France. It is a delectable food fight, between two extremely different cultures with a cast of delightful, colorful and likable individuals, even the minor characters – like a village mayor who enjoys, really enjoys fine cuisine.
Unfortunately, after a fiery start, the film moves into a sweetly predictable, yet still pleasing, groove. Making the journey even more palatable is the beautiful imagery and the most amazing foods – Hallström films them in a way that evokes every sense and we only watch from the outside, longing to smell, touch and of course, taste them ourselves. Had I not eaten just prior to the screening, my stomach might have had me ejected for making too much noise. Hasan’s food is rich in spices and it and other delicacies act almost as additional characters.
Produced by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfry, The Hundred-Foot Journey, may not win Mirren (or Hallström) an Academy Award, but it will win a place in people’s hearts. It is that kind of sweet and it has the ability to open up eyes (and mouths) to different cultures and their distinct delicacies. While the food and characters are spicy, the story is a bit bland and that is its only failure. Even with a twist or two Hallström plays it far too safe and it turns from fiery to fizzle. This is not to say it isn’t satisfying in the end, it is. I am placing a B- in my grade book and I am heading out or some tandoori or masala chicken or maybe some chickpea curry.