If you were a big fan of Ratatouille — and, I mean, who wasn't? — or binge watch the Food Network while poring over trendy cookbooks, Disney's new mouthwatering adaptation of the foodie novel The Hundred Foot Journey, which opens areawide on Friday, is sure to delight and arouse. If not, it's still a palatable, stress-free summer dramedy with a couple of breakout performances, the always-splendid Helen Mirren, soothing sentimental platitudes galore, and so many fawning close-ups of eggs that it's a marvel they didn't get top billing.
The film follows the Kadams, a family of restaurateurs from Mumbai. They've narrowly escaped some sort of politically motivated attack and have skidded to a stop in a provincial French town where Papa (Om Puri) has interpreted their car trouble as the hand of fate, or perhaps the hand of his deceased wife, with whom he still communes. Despite the protests of his children, Papa buys an abandoned (but still totally functional) restaurant. And as fate once again would have it, it sits directly across the street from the region's finest dining establishment, a Michelin-starred joint managed by the chilly widow Madame Mallory (Mirren, rolling her eyes just so).
The Madame wants nothing more than another star for her restaurant, and so in spite of early reservations and the enacted xenophobia of her sous chefs, takes an interest in the prodigious talents of Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal), whose curry is reported to be legendary and who himself has thrummed an infatuation with French cuisine. Hassan is the film's centerpiece, but it's ultimately his weird second-act journey to global culinary renown that distracts from the centralized culture-clash conflict, and drags the film on 20 minutes longer than it has to.
And the culture-clash conflict proves mostly to be empty calories. The French town and its inhabitants are close cousins (visually and thematically) of those that populated Chocolat, also directed by Lasse Halstrom. And though the sentiment is sweet, and the characters utter comforting cliches — "food is memories" — the culmination in romance and reconciliation is so blatantly forecasted that the conflicts seem tiny and almost off-handedly surmountable. Charlotte le Bon, as Hassan's competing sous chef and love interest, does manage to provide some spice, but otherwise this isn't much more than an easy breezy summer flick with tons of food porn and "touching moments." Which, I'll be the first to admit, are sometimes delicious.