Do you like romantic comedies that don’t demand much to think about? Do you enjoy comfort food? Why, order a super-sized menu of saccharine-laced tooth-ache inducing The Hundred-Foot Long Journey. On tonight’s special you’ll find Murgh Masala which is extra oily and spicy, and a Boeuf Bourguignon that looks the part but probably doesn’t taste right. The entire film can be summed up by the image of Mirren‘s character holding an asparagus: Overcooked & limped.
Let’s not be fooled by that oh-so-well edited trailer that showcases a little bit for everyone. There’s the gratuitous shot of exquisite food and dinning experience. An immigrant family’s struggles in a new foreign land. Not one, but two stories of romance. Oh yes, it’s in fact a box of chocolat. You’ve no freaking idea where the story will end in the next 10 to 15 minutes.
Even after saying all of that I should clear one thing: It is not a terrible movie. Yes it’s cheesy and corny. The script writing and the story telling should be the new definition of laziness. And it’s full of cliches, both French and Indian. However, if you feel exhausted and don’t want to think about what you are watching and just want to hand in your hard earned $12 on a movie that doesn’t threaten to kill a few of your brain cells (that’s debatable – I believe it may have exact opposite reaction on few people), then go for it. You’ll laugh. You might even get teary eyed (yes, I heard few sobs in the audience). And might end up feeling hunger pangs and might want to follow it up with a huge serving of Pizza and diet coke.
Since the unprecedented success of Slumdog Millionaire, commercial and critical, there have been quite a few attempts to recreate the magic of 2009’s Oscar winner. The few standouts and memorable ones are Life of Pi and to a lesser extent The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. And the forgetful would be the high profile Julia Roberts starring Eat Pray Love. Another genre that was recently and successfully brought back was food film. Julie & Julia‘s success for food films, is what Slumdog’s success is to films about immigrants, especially from South-Asia.
Two genres that clicked with the audience. And one important thing of the moment. That one thing that dominates the social media: food porn. It’s no surprise that some Hollywood producer(s) finally put two and two together and crunched a million-dollar project out of curry and wine stew. That’s what they are paid to do. People often say about bad script, TV/film/book that they could have done a better job in their sleep. Well they couldn’t if their lives depended on it. Very few shrewd people have those qualities. To be able to put the finger on the collective nerve of the entire society and hit all the major emotional high notes without fiddling with the upsetting somber ones. It’s pure genius.
The Hundred-Foot Journey takes Slumdog & Pi and Julie/Julia & Chocolat and tries extremely hard to be a crowd pleasing good-feel film. I’m from the subcontinent and have married into a French family. And I don’t have the capability to watch this film from an outsider’s prospective. It’s a White man’s vision of how Indian women cook food with their sons, and not with their daughters. How a French young woman (souschef) from a remote village whips out a huge platter of anti-pasto from her larder. With homemade bread, that she baked – hello, she works at a Michelin starred restuarant – She DOESN’t have time to make her own bread! Also there is at least one boulangerie in a village like that. Okay, let’s start with something good:
The team behind the film have extensive & deep knowledge of both French and Indian cultures & cuisines. All the choices made, though cliched and common, are accurate. You won’t find a weird melange of accents a la season four of Homeland here or cultural inaccuracies.
The entire cast is not only eye pleasing but they are good to capable actors. I’m not talking about the veterans, Helen Mirren and Om Puri, put effortless & reliable performances – so no surprises there.
It has it’s heart in the right place – the anti-racism, breaking cultural boundaries, mixing-it-up race & spice wise, rooting for the underdog and letting a child follow their dreams, are all noble themes.
there is SO much wrong with the film, so without any further ado here we go
The Bad & the worse
Helen Mirren is one of the best of her generation and a cinematic treasure & an institute herself. But why oh why take an English actress who would need to speak French dialogues with a slightly English accent (yes, it’s audible – she does a brilliant job, but still) and then puts on a fake French accent when talking in English? Last time I checked Catherine Deneuve was alive and could play a cold-yet-warm-at-heart-bitch in her sleep. It’s such a wrong casting choice.
I don’t like to reuse a word a lot. But had I’d been scribbling notes the page would have had the word LAZY written all over it, again and again. LAZY LAZY LAZY. From the screenplay to the predictable characters and from the filming techniques to the situations characters are put through are not only unrealistic, they are off-putting and tiresome.
The immigration interview scene, which is used as a weird narrative wheel for character’s past in India, borders on unbelievable and ridiculous. No, not everyone sitting at the border control at International airports is a complete lunatic, hunting for terrorists. BUT they don’t have such a great sense of humor – they might actually have – but they are not allowed to get engaged in any way with travelers.
The family seeks asylum in Europe having to flee from India because their livelihood, that was their home, restaurant & mother, was literally set to fire by an angry political mob. Okay! It’s a Muslim family. But the film NEVER utters the words Hindu-Muslim conflict. It’s as if the best-selling Buddhist author of the novel the film is based upon, is almost afraid to say anything about that issue and risk having a backlash from the Hindu community.
The move from India to the UK and then from under the shadows of Heathrow to a remote village in France, is constantly voiced against by the entire family, save one. On their father’s will and insistence that he is just following their dead-mother’s wishes, who speaks with him from the other side, made me roll my eyes so hard I could have popped them out of skull! Parents like this push their children all their lives, in the subcontinent and around the world, to become something they can be proud of. The impose their own insecurities and underachievement onto their children in the name of love and ask them to wear the clothes and put on the smiles & raise their hands in embarrassing situations. The film talks about it. But it never resolves it. I believe the issue I’ve this film is not only about laziness & cliches. But also about shifting it’s focus every 10-20 minutes, exhausting the topic and the audience by showing them nothing new, and then move on to the next chapter without actually resolving anything.
Behind every successful Man there is a woman, is an idea that is literally beaten to death, then summoned back to life and skinned and then again left to hang publicly. In a scene Helen Mirren’s character talks about subtlety of the French cuisine and contrast it with the loud & brash nature of Indian culture. Well here is the thing: the film itself is anything BUT. There are thee main female characters in the film. The mother, a stand in for sati-savitri, played by lovely once-Indian-superstar Juhi Chawla, literally burns down to ashed for her family. Her husband has time to save the family’s secret spices, but not his own wife. Deep, very deep philosophical stuff. Then we meet the French herione. The Oh-so-pretty-and-petite-Parisine, younger version of Julitte Binoche (Chocolat), who aspires to become a chef one day, but because she is understanding, loving and caring she let’s go of her own ambitions and gives her very shoulders to the man who will save the world with his very own hands. And then finally, we have Helen Mirren’s conflicting character. It’s one of the most predictable and annoying aspect of the film, the character that is. And truly it doesn’t help that Dame Helen is playing it to perfection. She has worked THIRTY years to get a second start and has not opened a special Champange bottle. But the patriarch stand-in her life, the epitome of what sub-continent expect their men to be like, pops the bottle because he cannot see her wait for a minute longer. It’s disgusting to watch the scene where Puri’s character pops the cork off Champange bottle. It’s as if you are watching them two having sex and he comes first without thinking of her needs and desire. To him, his needs are of the utmost importance. Because he thinks she is mesriable, he must do something, anything to please her. Well how about you shut-up and stand on the side for a minute longer and let her have the moment the way she wanted to have for THIRTY-YEARS. May be she should have gotten that vibrator she saw online. A man with premature ejaculation issues is one thing to deal with, but the man who cannot respect your needs and desires and tries to impose his wishes and dreams upon his children and the new ‘almost’ girlfriend is a man that does not make a keeper.
Entire movie feels like a collection of essays, very reminiscent of Eat Love Pray. The Indian family in a remote village wants to open a restaurant. Okay, throw in a song by multiple Oscar winner A.R. Rahman (Slumdog Millionaire), and a sequence about their struggles. It’s directly lifted off from Kal Ho Na Ho. Then we move on to the half baked love stories between the two young and old couples. There is the dutiful daughter-in.law, who is forced to dress in her wedding Sari and put on exuberant jewelry to attract customers for the restaurant. In one scene she utters a line “Nothing is arranged in this family“. Do we ever get a resolution or the meaning behind that line or it’s narrative purpose? No. We don’t. Even her own husband, the elder less-talented-more-self-conscious-husband ask her to smile for she has beautiful teeth. Later the movie quickly jumps from ideas of war (very deep Indo-Pak, German-French not-so-themes), a lecture on patriotism and racism . Drop all conflicts, making of a world-wide renowned chef, depression caused by pressure & drinking in competitive food business and then family the male protagonist doing the right thing: coming back to his roots. The French sous-chef girlfriend, not only takes him back, she accepts the proposal of being his sidekick for the rest of her life. The once ball-busting-but-good-at-heart old French woman’s heart has finally melted in heat of all those spices and she willingly gives the keys of her restaurant to the new successful once-underdog and her own could-have-been chef son. It’s ridiculous the way the film treats the women. The novel is written by a man who went on a spiritual journey to find himself and ended up writing a best-seller. The screenplay is written by another man. And the movie is directed by the famed Swedish director, Lasse Hallström, who once made thought provoking films like My Life As A Dog. The only major female influence the movie has is Oprah. Well, I don’t have anything bad to say about her – plenty has been said and written about the rights and the wrongs, allegedly, she has done. But I cannot imagine more from her, other than being touched by the book and having it featured in her book-club and then becoming one of the producers along with longtime collaborator of The Color Purple, Steven Spilberg. It’s a headscratcher how these two big names, along with Helen Mirren could have been attached to this project.
It is aggravating to see millions being spent on projects that promote long-dead cliches, tries to raise awareness about political and sexual injustices in the wannest manner possible, and shy away from actually giving any closer or confrontations to the topics that are being discussed. At no point anyone calls Puri‘s character out on his behavior. The way he pushes and forces himself on everyone around him. All mistakes and pecularities are laughed off by the film makers and the audiences in the name of “Ah-that’s-so-typically-immigrant-behavior”. Yes, not every film is meant to say something thought provoking, I know that. But one can make an honest film, crowd pleasing movie without being preachy about it. Monsoon Wedding and East is East are fine examples.
There is no balance here. This one tips the scale by overloading the sweetness. In one scene the French restaurant owner tells the boy from gutter about how it takes years for chefs to balance different aspects of food. This is a dessert that is so focused on presentation and making it perfect that it expect the sugar to do all the work. Does it have any dimension to it? No. There are no textures to be found There is no balance of taste. It’s one note dish, and that note is Sweet.