Adapting a book into a film can be a thankless job. Not only must you attempt to please fans of the book — who want every tiny detail put up on screen — but you also have to consider those who haven’t read it and just want a rewarding movie experience.
It’s unclear if either side will be fully satisfied with The Hundred-Foot Journey, based on the best-selling debut novel by Richard C. Morais. The story follows the Kadam family, who make their way from India to France following a family tragedy. Once there, the family patriarch (Om Puri) decides to open up a restaurant directly across the street from a world-class one owned by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren).
Any movie that revolves around food must properly showcase its preparation, and that is something director Lasse Hallstrom does well.
What he has that she doesn’t, though, is his son, Hassan (Manish Dayal), who is an intuitive and multitalented chef despite having no official training. The two restaurants spar through the actions of their owners and the cooking of their chefs, when Hassan faces off against Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), Madame Mallory’s sous chef.
Any movie that revolves around food must properly showcase its preparation, and that is something director Lasse Hallstrom does well. He uses close-ups, slow motion, sound and character reactions to great effect; you can almost smell the food coming through the screen.
The story, however, is a bit undercooked. From minute one, it is clear where the film is headed, so the execution of its arcs needs to be spot on. Even though I have not read the book, I could still feel the absence of some parts of the story, because of the way Hallstrom and screenwriter Steven Knight lingered on certain aspects and then sped through others.
The film takes place over the course of a few years, but save for a few fleeting references to time’s passing by, the time span feels much shorter. This negatively impacts the two developing relationships: Hallstrom gives both a good amount of attention, but never enough so that they truly seem meaningful.
That’s not to say the film isn’t enjoyable; it has plenty of charm, thanks to the acting. Mirren’s French accent has a certain je ne sais quoi that gives her performance a comfortable, lived-in quality. Puri’s weathered face and rambunctious demeanor help enliven his character’s rivalry with Madame Mallory.
But it’s Dayal and Le Bon who make the movie. Neither are newcomers, but they’re far from household names, which gives their characters’ slow burn of a relationship more believability. Each is worldly and innocent at the same time, qualities that should make them attractive to a wide swath of moviegoers.
The Hundred-Foot Journey leaves you hungry for more in certain courses, but the presentation of its food and the performances of the actors make it a satisfying meal nonetheless.