Movie Review: Culture clash resolves tastily in ‘Journey’

Tasteful and tasty: Om Puri, Manish Dayal and Helen Mirren in
Tasteful and tasty: Om Puri, Manish Dayal and Helen Mirren in "The Hundred-Foot Journey."

‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’
★★★ 1/2

There are no surprises — nothing off the menu — in this tasty and tasteful feel-good dramedy about clashing cultures and cuisines, but fans of “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” will no doubt find it palatable.

Fans of “Chocolat,” too, since “The Hundred-Foot Journey” director Lasse Hallström’s 2000 chocolate-covered romance involved a similar theme of good food and romance overcoming small-town small-mindedness and prejudice.

When his restaurant in Mumbai is burned down during a political uprising, Papa Kadam (Om Puri) moves his family to Europe and eventually decides to open a new establishment in a sleepy little village in southern France.

There’s one big problem, though: His Maison Mumbai will be located directly across the road from the Michelin-starred Le Saule Pleurer. And owner Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren) doesn’t take kindly to competition.

Soon, it’s war between Papa and the Madame, each of them trying to corner the local market and lodging endless complaints with the town’s harassed mayor. There’s also a slight scent of racism about Madame’s resentment of the Kadam’s colorful décor and loud music (courtesy of “Slum Dog Millionaire” Oscar winner A.R. Rahman). Then local thugs bring racial hatred to the forefront with an act of violence.

Scrumptious food, of course, is one of the key attractions here, with plenty of coolly classical French cuisine and zesty Indian concoctions served up front and center. Each of them eventually embraced equally by Papa’s son Hassan (Manish Dayal) a gifted cook who dreams (like the mouse in “Ratatouille”) of becoming a chef. Hassan also dreams of the beautiful Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), Madame’s sous chef, who loans him some basic French cookbooks then regrets it when he learns a bit too well.

The complications involving Hassan throw “Hundred-Foot Journey” off-course toward the end, but not enough to undermine the film’s emotional centerpiece — the evolving relationship between Papa and Madame. Mirren is excellent, as usual, displaying iron-willed hauteur with just a hint of vulnerability and Puri provides an ideal foil, whose stubbornness conceals a gentle nature.

Their soft centers don’t prevent them from butting heads in the street between their restaurants, however, and loudly deriding each other’s culinary orientations. Where they’re headed might be as predictable as dessert as a final course, but that doesn’t prevent it from being a treat.

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