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Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014

The Hundred-Foot Journey

Helen Mirren’s 100-foot journey

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Older audiences received short shrift for decades from the movie industry. Lately, aging Baby Boomers have flexed their wallets and producers in Hollywood (and its outskirts) are responding. Alongside significant films such as Alexander Payne’s About Schmidt and Nebraska comes a genre we’ll call middle-class 60-plus comedy. With its whimsical story of retirees in India, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel set the stage. Land Ho!, an oldster buddy-road picture, is on its way to a theater near you. Meanwhile, Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey co-present The Hundred-Foot Journey, in which civilizations clash and resolve, hearts beat as one and a touch of curry adds spice to the bouillabaisse.

Based on the novel by Richard C. Morais, The Hundred-Foot Journey can be called a tale of two culinary cultures represented by veteran chefs, Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren) and Papa Kadam (Om Puri), warring over market shares in a picturesque village in the south of France. Mallory, the proprietor of a fine French restaurant (with a coveted Michelin star), looks down her nose at the boisterous Kadam family, recent arrivals from India, whose Papa is determined to introduce the town to the delights of tandoori. The nerve of those people opening a little Taj Mahal across the road from her venerable establishment!

The screenplay wanes after awhile. The plot is predictable, including the inevitable attraction-repulsion between Mallory’s delightful sous chef Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) and Papa’s strapping son Hassan (Manish Dayal). The journey across the 100-foot divide of prejudice and mutual suspicion measured by the road separating the two restaurants is smoothed over with remarkable ease. And yet, The Hundred-Foot Journey has many funny moments and two great actors, Mirren in full snoot and Puri in prideful bluster, facing off only to…well, let’s not give away the ending.

Many of the film’s best moments are spent in the competing kitchens; that bag of popcorn on your lap will offer slight compensation for the pangs of hunger induced by fine French and Indian cooking.