Director Lasse Hallström has put together his latest cinematic dish — "The Hundred-Foot Journey" — as a tasty three-course meal that only slows between the main course and dessert.
The appetizer is the Indian family taken on a journey across Europe by Papa (Om Puri), its bullheaded patriarch. When car problems leave the Kadam family stranded in a small city in the south of France, Papa believes he's been guided to a new spot for a family restaurant.
The only problem is he's selected a location that's only 100 feet away from Le Saule Pleureur, one of the best restaurants in the region. It is run with an iron fist by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), who is determined her restaurant will earn a coveted second Michelin star.
Hallström delicately blends the clash of cultures with tender moments of budding romance. The lightness early in the story sets up a rich main course, where Hallström turns up the emotional heat with surf-and-turf wars.
Mirren brings the same reserved regalness that she displayed in "The Queen" to the role. Her work is made all that more delicious when she clashes with the big and broad performance by Puri.
Equally delicious is the love/hate relationship between Hassan (Manish Dayal), an Indian chef with magical cooking skills, and Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), a sous chef who is drawn to Hassan but upset with how much he's trumped her in the kitchen.
Hallström blends romance and cooking to create a sweet tale of love that's fifty shades of gravy. It's the rare case where both sides are justified in their personal and culinary opinions. That makes it easy to root for them to find a way to come together.
The film ends with a sweet treat. The problem is that just before the conclusion is served up, the film drifts off to a storyline in Paris that has as much appeal as boiled water. It's not a long enough pause to forget how good the entire visual dining experience has been, but it doesn't add any seasoning to the stock.
Most of "The Hundred-Foot Journey" is predictable, but that's like looking at a menu and ordering items you've had many times before. The familiar can be just as good if presented the right way. When Mirren is involved, characters are elevated to the highest quality.
When a director serves up a film like "The Hundred-Foot Journey" with so many layers of passion, it's a rich and creamy treat.
"The Hundred-Foot Journey," rated PG for language, adult situations. Stars Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal, Charlote Le Bon. Directed by Lasse Hallström. Running time: 122 minutes. Grade: B