For The Hundred-Foot Journey, director Lasse Hallström (of Chocolat fame) once again employs top-drawer talent and close-up shots of meal preparation to tell a story about how food changes people’s lives. In his latest endeavor, Hallström follows the Kadams, an Indian family that seeks asylum in Europe after their matriarch is murdered in a political uprising in their hometown of Mumbai. The Kadams settle in the French village of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, as the patriarch of the family (Om Puri) insists that this is where his children’s mother wished them to rebuild the restaurant they ran in India. The Kadams have the misfortune of opening their restaurant, Maison Mumbai, right across the road from Le Saule Pleureur, a classical French eatery with a Michelin star that is widely agreed to be the best restaurant in 50 miles, run by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), who does not take kindly to the competition a hundred feet across the way. But Papa Kadam comes equipped with a secret weapon: his son Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal), a young prodigy of a chef with the power to win over every taste bud with his Midas-like culinary touch. It doesn’t take long for Madame Mallory to discover that the most promising young chef in France works just across the street for the competition.
The cultural clash the trailer promises soon gives way to the story of a young man struggling to discover who he is and where he belongs. Sadly, it’s also here that the film lost me. Well, it didn’t completely lose me — start to finish, The Hundred-Foot Journey is about as pleasant as films come. There was never a moment where I wasn’t happy to be in the theater. But this film’s strength is in its exploration of its fish-out-of-water family, and it’s no fun when your fish finds an ocean with forty-five minutes of film left to go. Journey shies away from high stakes and meaningful consequences and almost always chooses pleasant over painful, ultimately making for a film that isn’t as good as it should have been.