2014 has been a great year for movies. From mainstream films such as Edge of Tomorrow and Beyond the Lights to indie fare such as The Grand Budapest Hotel and Under the Skin, there has been a plethora of unique films worth watching. As a result, many movies have fallen off the radar. One film that has been criminally underlooked and underrated is The Hundred-Foot Journey.
Admittedly, I was hesitant walking into the movie. All I had gathered from the trailer was that this was a movie about cooking Indian and French food and that Helen Mirren was in it. I was worried that the Indian characters would be pushed to the background in favor of the white protagonist. My worst case scenario was that The Hundred-Foot Journey would be one of those “uplifting” movies where a white protagonist is glorified for his or her charitable act of regarding people of color as fellow humans. Thankfully, I was proven completely wrong. While there is plenty of Indian and French food porn, The Hundred-Foot Journey also offers substance for thought.
The film tells the story of Hassan Kadam (played by Manish Dayal), a political refugee whose family escapes India after a deadly political riot and starts an Indian restaurant in Southern France. The film quickly establishes Hassan Kadam as a culinary genius in the making and focuses on his character’s path, from the “hundred-foot journey” to the French culinary restaurant run by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren, who is nominated for a Golden Globe for the role) to eventual chef superstardom in a gastronomic Parisian restaurant.
From start to finish, Hassan Kadam is the main character that drives the narrative of the story. As played by Manish Dayal in a star-making role, Hassan is a determined and observant culinary genius who relies more on instinct than traditional recipes or cooking techniques. Credit must be given to both Manish Dayal and the screenwriter Stephen Knight for portraying Hassan Kadam as a nuanced, three-dimensional character. Like Hassan, the rest of his family are defined by more than just their ethnicity. Om Puri who plays Papa is particularly memorable as a father who is proud, defiant, but emotionally vulnerable.
Unfortunately, mainstream media often despicts Asians and Asian Americans as two dimensional, stereotypical caricatures. Thanks to films like The Hundred-Foot Journey, that may be slowly on its way to changing. Seeing a film with an Asian lead (it’s important to note that The Hundred-Foot Journey was the only wide-release film in the summer of 2014 to star an Asian American, sorry Godzilla does not count) and well-rounded Asian characters felt like a breath of much-needed fresh air. The film is also nuanced in its treatment of race and racism. While the film isn’t explicitly about race, the film does show both overt racism (the Kadams are almost killed at one point in their new hometown in France) and subtler racism (Hassan’s story is later labeled as a “rags to riches story” by a newspaper, which Om Puri’s character furiously tears apart). Throughout the film, French and Indian cultures and cuisine as depicted as unusual but equal complements.
The Hundred-Foot Journey is a simple, effective and well-told story. It’s optimistic but never at the expense of its characters and the serious issues they face. It’s filled to the brim with food porn but also thoughtful about race and human nature. So if you’re looking for a film to see over the holidays, I highly recommend watching The Hundred-Foot Journey.
The Hundred-Foot Journey is rated PG and currently out in Blu-Ray/DVD.