|'another stock offering in a genre loosely labelled: 'unthreatening pastime''|
Lasse Hallström's latest middle-class relaxation technique proves itself to be amiable and pleasant enough, presented as it is in an unexpectedly high cost sheen, like a bottle of Waitrose Chardonnay. The Hundred-Foot Journey, despite some surface level appearances to the contrary within the story, isn't here to pass comment on European treatment of refugees, for example, but instead to provide Friday evening reassurance. Everything will be all right. Carry on quaffing.
The surprise screenwriter behind this adaptation of Richard C. Morais' novel is Steven Knight, a man who with directorial efforts Hummingbird and Locke seemed to be moving away from this sort of gig. His narrative focuses on Hassan (Manish Dayal) and Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), who he struggles to disguise as anything other than another take on star-crossed lovers, working at diametrically opposed restaurants on opposite sides of a rural French road. The heft is carried by Helen Mirren and Om Puri, respective owners of said establishments who find themselves at odds over their own takes on national cuisine.
In an amiable narrative, Hallström does find room for some surprises whilst following a traditional route of burbling middle class conflict (initial casual racism which is eventually revealed to come from a character who is actually OK? Check.), which is only ever going to end one way. The lack of subtitles in several places is one of the main things the director opts for, which really works. Papa (Puri), Hasan and family are newcomers to France and not letting us in on some of their conversations and on some of the French conversations they hear is a brave move to root us in a feeling of displacement and foreignness.
Other core elements though prevent The Hundred-Foot Journey from being anything other than yet another stock offering in a genre loosely labelled: 'unthreatening pastime'. At the ninety-minute mark, there's some success and unison; at least enough of both for a second draft of the script to have concluded that this was a good time to call the whole thing off. Instead, Hallström stretches us out for another thirty-two minutes, adding in a new sub-plot that didn't need to be there before ending it too early for it to be any good. During that whole period and, in fact, any period after the opening act, he also can't settle on what the film's conflict is, hopping between elements that include almost every major character and, as such, feel artificial.
However, and this is perhaps indicative of something wider than this one film, it is pretty much a fact that you could do a whole lot worse than choosing this as an accompaniment to your glass of Chardonnay on a Friday evening.