HundredFootJourneycoverGrade:  B
Entire family: Yes
2014, 122 min., Color
Rated PG for thematic elements, some violence, language and brief sensuality
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1
Featured audio: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Bonus features: C
Includes: Digital HD Copy

There’s nothing in The Hundred-Foot Journey that the whole family can’t see, thanks to an overly dark night scene that’s so murky you can’t tell what’s going on. There is a fire and a character does die, but there’s nothing so graphic that it would warrant staying away—especially when the theme of cultural acceptance and understanding is one that many parents would like their children to see.

The Hundred-Foot Journey goes a surprising number of places for such a short trip. It’s a love story, a story about culture clash, an underdog success story, and a movie that celebrates food—albeit one that devolves into a food fight at one point, figuratively speaking.

But this little film has heart. How can it not, being executive produced by the reunited team of Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey? Everybody in the audience gets a box of warm fuzzies.

Director Lasse Hallström (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) is no stranger to films that celebrate food. His Chocolat (2000) was among those first-wave attempts to incorporate the transformative properties of delicious concoctions into the narrative. In fact, there are a few similarities to The Hundred Foot Journey. Both films focus on characters new to a conservative, provincial French town the plot revolves around the way that the new arrivals gradually win everyone over because of the food that they make.

Adapted from Richard C. Morais’ 2010 novel, The Hundred-Foot Journey features Helen Mirren as Madame Mallory, a widow who operates an haute cuisine restaurant that has earned a single Michelin star, and she wants another. Soon, as the audience senses, her life will radically change when an Indian family buys the shuttered, former restaurant one hundred feet across the road from her.  

When we’re first introduced to the Kadam family, we vicariously experience their great tragedy when their Mumbai restaurant is firebombed by an angry mob after an election, and their cook—the matriarch of the family—is killed. So they leave India for a new start in London, where Indian cooking is so appreciated that chicken tikka masala is the national dish. But Papa Kadam (Om Puri) pronounces London no place for serious restaurateurs because the quality of vegetables is so poor. So the family picks up and relocates again to the mainland, and coming, as happened in Chocolat, to a little village by chance. Their van breaks down, but a young French woman (Charlotte Le Bon) helps them and puts them up in her apartment for the night. And her offer of vegetables and cheese is enough to convince Papa Kadam that they can find the quality ingredients they need right here in order to open a new restaurant.

HundredFootJourneyscreenThat Good Samaritan, as it turns out, is the sous chef at the Le Saule Pleurer, and that puts her in an awkward position of being both an advocate for the new people and suddenly a competitor, once the Maison Mumbai opens. In no time at all the new restaurant begins to siphon some of their business because of the father’s intercepting and charming people on the road who were headed to the more established restaurant.

But it’s not just the father’s charm. His second-oldest son, Hassan (Manish Dayal) is a talented cook who worked closely with his mother to learn all her secrets. And when Madame Mallory tastes a dish he brings over as a peace offering, she knows that she is in trouble, though her response is to throw the rest of the dish into the trash.

What makes the film successful is that the “journey” does involve so much, and metaphorically it serves to remind audiences that sometimes taking a few steps can lead to new attitudes and even reconciliation. I won’t say that every character has a journey in this film, but certainly the four main actors have arcs to follow and explore. Mirren is her usual stunning self, acting with understated believability, but Puri is a worthy opposite. Same with little-known actors who play the two main chefs in the film. And despite a second-act sag that’s almost as plodding as much of what we saw in another culture-clash film, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Hundred-Foot Journey is an entertaining, feel-good movie that can make a difference, if you let it. Unlike Chocolat, The Hundred-Foot Journey doesn’t celebrate the magical properties of food as much as it does the magical ability of humans to heal themselves, and each other.