By the first counts,"The Hundred-Foot Journey" (August 8) is a mildly enjoyable if too-familiar film that will flee your mind within moments of exiting the theater — in short, a Lasse Hallström movie. “Chocolat,” specifically, is the film most reviewers are finding similar, both for its focus on food and, in one critic’s own words, an “affectionate shaming of provincial Gallic villagers.”
How much culture-shaming Helen Mirren’s protagonist carries out will remain to be seen, but the first batch of reviews do not foretell a tasty confection. One can't help but wonder if Hallström and DreamWorks returned to this terrain because in 2001 "Chocolat," after all, did earn five Oscar nominations including Best Picture. It played well to the smarthouse demo (and had Harvey Weinstein behind it).
Will adult audiences return to the well? They tend to be driven by good reviews, is the thing.
Variety's Justin Chang writes that the effort is “prepared to exacting middlebrow specifications and ensured to go down as tastily and tastefully as possible”:
Amid all this fun but childish oneupsmanship, Knight and Hallstrom gently milk all the expected stereotypes for humor and conflict: The French are snobs with their hoity-toity manners and expensive food, and they’re deeply affronted by the thrifty, tacky Indians with their colorful clothes and loud music. France’s ugly history of racial aggression and unrest, particularly relevant at the present moment, briefly punctures the film’s placid surface when local thugs attack and nearly burn down Maison Mumbai. But rather than lighting a fuse, this trauma is what begins to unite the Kadams and Madame Mallory, who soon realizes that Hassan is not only an exceptional cook, especially when armed with his family’s prized spice box, but possibly the missing ingredient that could earn Le Saule Pleureur its second Michelin star.
Some nice locations and winning performances don’t do much to enliven things, says Sheri Linden of The Hollywood Reporter:
With its picture-postcard setting and mouth-watering Indian and French delicacies, "The Hundred-Foot Journey" is a movie designed to comfort. Stimulating taste buds and little else, Lasse Hallstrom’s latest film picks up where his 2000 hit “Chocolat” left off, in terms of the affectionate shaming of provincial Gallic villagers. Toplining Helen Mirren and Om Puri as rival restaurateurs in the Midi-Pyrénées region of France, the film tracks a tension-free lesson in cultural exchange that culminates, predictably, in romance. Fans of the source bestseller and seekers of non-challenging counterprogramming to summer’s genre fare will savor the offering. But colorful locales and exotic spices can’t hide its essential blandness.
While The Wrap’s Alonso Duralde was “caring about the relationships, and even a little moved when the combative Madame Mallory makes a peace offering to her beleaguered neighbors,” some plot turns undo the effort:
But then Hassan becomes a culinary superstar, the third act is devoted to the country mouse's seduction by the big city (and by molecular gastronomy, which this movie depicts as the devil's work), and the balance of “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” already at risk, goes completely kablooey.
It's an emotional jukebox, where Hallström presses a button to elicit joy, tears, sympathy, whatever, and as such, it will no doubt play well for undemanding viewers who just want to see delicious vindaloos, wild mushrooms growing on a French riverbank and the melting of Helen Mirren‘s frozen heart (and apparently, in some scenes, her putty nose).