Tuesday, December 2, 2014

"The Hundred-Foot Journey": Overly Conventional Food Porn

Now Available on DVD and Blu-Ray

When a film is produced by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, you can get a pretty good idea of what you’re in for; The Hundred-Foot Journey is inspiration porn, through and through, designed so explicitly for upper-middle class middle-aged white women that it’s a marvel that the film was a theatrical release and not shown on the Hallmark channel.  Hell, even the film’s poster appeals to that sensibility by prominently displaying Helen Mirren as the film’s star, even though she is the film’s primary antagonist and tangential to the narrative focus.  However, a film’s primary demographic shouldn’t be the sole indicator of a film’s quality, and yet, this film is so steeped in formula and convention that it never becomes anything more than average.

The crux of the film’s conflict is reminiscent of the classic Montague/Capulet struggle from that old Shakespeare classic.  (I forget the name…)  A family from India moves to a French village to set up a restaurant, and ends up across the street from an acclaimed culinary establishment run by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren).  The family establishes their restaurant with the hook that Indian cuisine will be exotic enough to entice the French palate away from the more conventional taste of Mallory’s chefs, and this starts a business war between the two restaurants.  Meanwhile, our main protagonist, wanna-be chef Hassan, begins developing a romance with Marguerite, a sous chef at Mallory’s establishment.

For the most part, the film plays along to the expected beats predictably enough, and while the performances are decent and the dialogue is well-written, there just isn’t much here that hasn’t been done before.  It is worth noting that much screentime is devoted to the mouthwatering culinary treats that are the center of this narrative universe’s desire, which is hardly surprising considering this was directed by Lasse Hallstrom of Chocolat fame.  The theme of food as a great uniter is just as prevalent here, though the romantic angle is played down in favor of a racial tolerance message.  It all works just fine, but again, it’s all very obvious and trite.

The only real problem with the film is that it suffers some third act pacing issues, dragging on for way too long in order to resolve Hassan’s character arc.  If the first two-thirds of the film had been focused on Hassan as intently, I would not have had as much of an issue with the film’s plodding pace, but by the ninety-minute point, the story’s primary conflict has been mostly resolved, and Hassan’s goals and aspirations feel more like narrative loose ends than central story elements.  It doesn’t help that the generic nature of the film’s characters makes it difficult to especially care about any of them, so when the focus shifts almost entirely to only one of them, the film feels slow and empty, populated with more unnecessary food montages to pad the film out until it’s acceptable to tie the final knot.

But when all’s said and done, The Hundred-Foot Journey isn’t a bad film, and I’m sure that it will be appealing to its primary demographic.  I’ve certainly seen worse, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s worth your time, it might just serve to fill a couple hours if you have nothing better to do.

Any food-obsessed films that you really like?  Let me know in the comments below.

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