What’s your poisson?
THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY Directed by Lasse Hallström. Starring Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal, Charlotte Le Bon, Amit Shah, Farzana Dua Elahe, Dillon Mitra
PG cert, 117 min There is a good-bad film lurking within this grey-pound comedy from arch-sentimentalist Lasse Hallström.
Following a tragic prologue in India, we join restaurateur Om Puri and his family as they make their way to England and then on to France in search of a place to set up shop. The clan eventually settles in an absurdly picturesque village that makes Brigadoon seem like a bustling hub of modernity.
A crumbling, picturesque site is found, but there’s a problem. Snooty Helen Mirren, proprietor of a Michelin-starred restaurant, lurks angrily across the road.
Dismissing Om’s menu (convincingly, to anybody aware of French culinary prejudices) as “fast food”, Mirren’s Madame sets out on minor acts of sabotage: complaining about noise, buying up all the mushrooms. A stand-off between complementary cultures offers all sorts of coddramatic possibilities.
One can barely imagine a better set-up for a good-bad film. With Steven Spielberg and Oprah Win- frey acting as Hallström’s producers, it doesn’t need to be said that a great deal of syrup is poured over both kulfi and eclairs. Warmed by the idealised rural glow one expects from a Stella Artois commercial, Mirren scowls magnificently while Puri finds endless Machiavellian twinkles. The cheesier elements of the package – notably Mirren’s ’Allo ’Allo accent – add to the guilty nature of the pleasure.
Then, alas, it suddenly goes off the boil (you just knew a culinary metaphor was on the way). The two veterans sort out their differences and we are led into an endless, boring yarn involving Puri’s son (Manish Dayal) and his ambitions to become a master chef. There is, of course, a romance with one of Madame Mirren’s female charges (Charlotte Le Bob) and, equally predictably, a great many important life lessons are learned.
As well as taking us away from the, older more interesting characters, this diversion deprives us of a focus on the spicier Indian traditions. In short, too much cream, not enough dal.
That dame is a snob: Helen Mirren makes the Hundred-Foot Journey