Monday, August 18, 2014

The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014)

Film: The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014)
Stars: Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal, Charlotte Le Bon
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Oscar History: Mirren got in with the Globes, but couldn't bake her way to another Oscar nod.
Snap Judgment Ranking: 2/5 stars

Before we start, can we all just be thankful that we live in a world today where actresses like Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith, and Judi Dench are genuine box office stars?  All three women can open a movie (primarily on the art house circuit, though quite frankly most of the films seem to go wide properly now) and get a genuine adult audience.  I love that we now have films that are made for adults AND are hits, so we aren't just being forced to watch whatever Hollywood is trying to market to a vast audience (but in reality 13-19 year-old males).

(Spoilers Ahead...but this is a broad plot so you will see them coming a mile away) That being said, this isn't what you'd call the movie we were hoping for when adult dramas were coming back (maybe a Terms of Endearment style picture again?).  Instead, it's pretty paint-by-numbers, and not particularly compelling at all.  The film, if you've seen the trailers you'll have deduced this, is about a stodgy French restauranteur named Madame Mallory (Mirren) who has an Indian family that moves in across the street headed by an equally stubborn man simply known in the film as Papa (Puri), and a food fight of sorts emerges between the two as they begin to quarrel.  It's the sort of "breaking-down-barriers" film that you expect to see in a 1980's Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, not in a modern cinema in 2014 (sadly, racial tolerance is something that still needs to be instilled in people, so there is of course a place for this style of film, but how depressing that this is still needed in a modern cinema or modern world?).

The film lightens up a bit in its middle third, and is certainly at its best here.  Mirren could do this sort of role in her sleep and is the type of performer who has chemistry with everything that moves (considering she's about to hit her seventies, at what point do we start seeing the lifetime achievement awards fall into place for her?).  She is particularly good with Dayal (more on him in a second), frequently fighting her urges to give in to a love for a child that she never had.  I will say this about Mirren: she's basically good in everything she does (though the French accent needed a bit of work), but I really wish she would challenge herself again to be great.  Ever since The Queen, she's got a taste of the Meryls-improving everything that she's a part of but not really challenging herself as an actress (the same can be said of Streep post-Prada).  I'd love to see Mirren do a straight-up drama in the vein of Gosford Park again and see if she can still pull it off without a gimmick.

The final third of the movie seems completely unnecessary.  Did we really spend the entire film with Hassan (Dayal), the most pleasant person in the world, and expect him to become an obnoxious celebrity?  Once Mirren's restaurant gets a second Michelin star, that should have been the end, and the last thirty minutes felt like they dragged far too long.  I will say that I actually quite enjoyed Dayal in his role, even if he was occasionally bland.  He's ridiculously handsome and charming, which is why the romantic subplot didn't work for me at all, as it wasn't really believable that Le Bon's character wouldn't fall instantly for him, and quite frankly (aside from looking like a young Winona Ryder), Le Bon brought zilch chemistry to her role or to that relationship.

As I said above, it's a pleasant enough ride, and you'll leave it desperate to find your nearest Indian restaurant, but for a film all about spice, it felt quite bland.  I think that while it's wonderful that Mirren (and Smith and Dench) are now major box office stars, I wish they would spend more time giving us some substantive meals instead of just empty calories.

Those are my thoughts-how about yours?  Are you a fan of what Mirren has been doing with her career, or would you like her to challenge her audience a bit more?  Did you like Hallstrom's latest, or were you with me that it needed a bit more flavoring?  And are you desperately tired of all of the food puns related to this film?  Share in the comments!

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