WHO TOLD HOLLYWOOD that food has the power to defeat racism? I'm pretty sure it doesn't. The Hundred-Foot Journey is the latest to doggedly insist that food heals all, offering the audacious premise of an Indian family emigrating to a tiny town in France and opening a restaurant across the street from a Michelin-starred outpost of classical French cuisine.
Helmed by Lasse Hallström, in a clear bid to recapture some of that ol' Chocolat magic, Hundred-Foot Journey focuses on Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal), a bee-yoo-ty-ful young Indian man with near-mystical skill in the kitchen. He Is the One, Whose Divine Culinary Gifts Will Bring Michelin Stars to Us All; Lo! Gaze Upon His Glory as He Transforms a Humble Pan of Béchemel Sauce into Exotic Béchemel Sauce Simply By Adding a Hitherto Mysterious Dust Called "Coriander"! Soon enough, he falls for the trés French sous chef at the restaurant across the way—much to the chagrin of her boss, Helen Mirren.
The food and love stuff is harmless enough, but Journey's a fairy tale whose pretenses to a social conscience are worse than none at all. When "La France aux Francais" is scrawled on the front of Maison Mumbai, all the audience knows is that something racist is happening for the purpose of providing conflict in this dumb movie. But that's an actual slogan used by actual French racists—anti-immigrant sentiment in France is a real, ugly, and endemic fact. In The Hundred-Foot Journey, though, racism just needs a good rap on the knuckles from Helen Mirren's wooden spoon.
Journey is endlessly nitpickable—don't even get me started on Hassan's foray into molecular gastronomy in the film's unnecessary third act. In some ways, though, its worst offense is that it's a food movie that's more interested in eating than cooking. There's lots of sensual sauce tasting, lots of perfectly plated food and eyes rolling heavenward to remind us Hassan is a really good cook, but not nearly enough time is spent in the actual kitchen.
I saw The Lunchbox earlier this year, a charming little Mumbai-set love 'n' food joint. Afterward, I went straight to Bollywood Theater for fried okra and pav bhaji. After The Hundred-Foot Journey, I had no appetite at all.