Manish Dayal delivers a breakthrough performance in “The Hundred-Foot Journey.” (Courtesy of Disney)
3 out of 4 stars
Chef Hassan Kadam is torn.
Does the teenager with deep Indian roots stick to perfecting his family’s secret recipe of tandoori goat or does he embrace his new home in France by creating a silky smooth hollandaise sauce?
Does he continue to work in the Kadam’s Indian restaurant or walk across the street to cook at the Michelin-starred French restaurant under the guidance of the legendary Madame Mallory who can launch his career?
Kadam’s answer: He’ll have his curry chicken and beef bourguignon, and eat it, too – all without sacrificing family loyalty to get to the top of the culinary food chain in “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” an adaptation of Richard C. Morais’ 2010 novel about two rival restaurants in a village in France’s southern countryside.
But Director Lasse Hallström’s “The Hundred-Foot Journey” isn’t about Old World French competing against contemporary Indian or about the intricacies of making the perfect béchamel sauce or naan.
It’s about how food turns to feuding restaurant owners – Mallory, played by the always spectacular Helen Mirren and Papa Kadam, played very well by Om Puri – into more than just friends by showing the way to someone’s heart often times is through the stomach.
“The Hundred-Foot Journey,” which gets its name from the distance between the restaurants, is storytelling at its finest, which isn’t surprising since it was Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey’s idea to bring Morais’ international bestseller to the big screen.
It’s easy to pick sides, at first. You see how the Kadam’s popular restaurant in India is destroyed in fiery blaze of vandalism that takes the life of the family’s mother, who taught Hassan (Manish Dayal) everything he knows about cooking. You’ll cheer for the Kadams as they persevere to France, where they renovate a restaurant that failed since it was no match for the bully on the block: Mallory’s Le Saule Pleureur, which counts the French president among its customers.
You’ll hate Mallory for sabotaging the Kadams restaurant before its doors are opened. You won’t stand Mallory’s arrogance, her constant disdain for the Kadams, whose biggest fault is they see nothing wrong with throwing big plates of hot, spicy food in the middle of the table and letting everyone dig in.
The Kadams view meals as backyard barbecues, while Mallory sees them as formal dinner parties, where courses are regimented, ingredients are perfectly cooked and components plated like pieces on chessboard. Sure, barbecues and formal dinner parties are fun, but you can’t do both at the same time.
Or can you?
The movie’s biggest strength is how it uses the power of exemplary food – be it French or Indian or in this case their fusion – to bridge the gap between Mirren and Papa, as they learn two people who couldn’t be more different also couldn’t become more similar.
“It’s a bit of a fable, but a fable that wants to be realistically told,” Hallström told Entertainment Weekly earlier this year. “It’s a melting pot of languages, of food, and of people.”
Mirren’s star power glows throughout the film, but it isn’t bright enough to outshine Dayal, whose performance represents a breakthrough for the 31-year-old actor whose career has been mostly confined to roles on TV shows like “Switched at Birth” and “90210.”
But he seizes his opportunity as chef who goes from cooking in his family’s kitchen to conquering the upscale restaurants of Paris. He convinces the audience of his passion for food – and more importantly its deeper meaning to his family – throughout the two-hour film, especially when instructing Mallory how to make the greatest omelet she’s ever eaten, easily one of the film’s best scenes.
“The Hundred-Foot Journey,” plays out much like a meal. You’re treated to an enjoyable first course that leaves you wanting more, which is delivered in an entree, where all of the ingredients of a savory love story – character development, conflict and perseverance – mix seamlessly leading to a final chapter of sweetness that leaves you more than satisfied.
For another take, please read our review on our sister website LA PostExaminer.com.
Jon Gallo is an award-winning journalist and editor with 19 years of experience, including stints as a staff writer at The Washington Post and sports editor at The Baltimore Examiner. He also believes the government should declare federal holidays in honor of the following: the Round of 64 of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament; the Friday of the Sweet 16; the Monday after the Super Bowl; and of course, the day after the release of the latest Madden NFL video game.