It’s rare in cinema to find an adult movie that contains an intelligent story and is tasteful enough to have your kids come along. But The Hundred Foot Journey is both of these things. Produced by entertainment gods Stephen Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, it was bound to wind up being good. But I never expected its feel-good message to be put to the test right there in the movie theater.
Adapted from the novel by Richard C. Morais, the film tells the story of the Kadam family’s ordeal as newcomers to a small village in the South of France. The youngest son, Hassan, is the cook in his family’s new restaurant, which his father stubbornly chooses to locate next to the town’s crème-de-la-crème eatery—a Michelin-starred establishment run by the dour Madame Mallory, played by Helen Mirren.
If you've seen Chocolat, you’ll find similarities in The Hundred Foot Journey. Both were directed by Lasse Hallstrom, and both shouldn't be seen on an empty stomach. You’ll delight in almost being able to smell the aromas coming from the two restaurants as a culinary showdown commences between the families. Fortunately my wife and I anticipated this and had plans to dine at a fabulous Indian restaurant right after the movie.
The characters in the film showed emotional complexity as their cultures clashed and strained the fits and starts of a love affair. When hateful stereotypes emerged I wondered how the characters would handle their intensifying emotions, heavy with sadness and shame. Since I’m not a big fan of watching revenge-based drama, I felt uneasy during a few of these moments. Enthusiastic cheers from the theater audience a few rows near us when it seemed like tensions would escalate into all-out war made me even less comfortable.
I hoped The Hundred Foot Journey wouldn't be just another film that mindlessly mirrors our society’s obsession with reality television values which excuses selfishness in pursuit of one’s ambitions. But mother Oprah would never let this happen in her house. Seeing the character’s true colors bloom into beautiful acts of courage was truly moving. As I sat in my seat I hoped that the lessons of the movie would especially be absorbed by “those people” in the theater with us that seemed to delight when it seemed like a vicious fight was eminent. “How could they delight that?” I thought, feeling better than them.
It’s amazing how subtle and self-justified our prejudices are. The lesson of the movie was really for me. Perhaps if the movie were titled The Twenty Foot Journey it would have sunk in a bit sooner for me—that’s the distance between five rows of seats in a movie theater.