Tagged: Lasse Hallström

Review – The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014)

Director: Lasse Hallström

Starring: Manish Dayal, Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Charlotte Le Bon

Hundred-Foot JourneyLasse Hallström’s The Hundred-Foot Journey is based on Richard C. Morais’ bestselling novel about rival restaurants in rural France. But for a seemingly quaint little movie, The Hundred-Foot Journey has some heavy hitters behind it, with Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey acting as producers (Morais’ novel had previously featured in Oprah’s magazine as a “favourite summer read”).

The Kadam family, having fled political violence in India, ruffle some feathers upon their arrival in a provincial French town by opening an Indian restaurant directly across the road from Madame Mallory’s Le Saul Pleurer. While Le Saul Pleurer may have a Michelin star, Papa Kadam has no fear, because Madame Mallory’s restaurant does not have his son, Hassan, whom he believes is the best Indian cook in Europe. What starts out as a bitter rivalry becomes a close friendship as Mallory takes Hassan under her wing, turning him from a great cook into a great chef.

Exploring the soul of food, and the connection of food and family, there is not a lot of new ground being covered here. Hallström himself has previously explored the prejudices of a small French town being broken down with food in Chocolat, and the last couple of years have seen British films like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Slumdog Millionaire taking an interest in Indian culture. But while The Hundred-Foot Journey may not overly original, it is charmingly executed.

The story is very reliant on racial stereotypes, albeit endearingly portrayed racial stereotypes. The French are uptight and culturally elitist. The Indians are loud and colourful. The Hundred-Foot Journey is about a clash of cultures. The journey of the title refers to the hundred feet from the Kadam’s restaurant to Mallory’s, and just as Hassan’s cooking crosses the divide between these seemingly incompatible cultures, so too do the friendships that are forged.

While this is technically a film about Hassan, it is the rivalry and then friendship between Papa and Madame Mallory that is most endearing, with Helen Mirren and Om Puri sharing wonderful on-screen chemistry. Unfortunately, the film loses its trajectory at the 90 minute mark, as the third act puts the other characters to one side in favour of pursuing Hassan’s journey as a celebrity chef in Paris. This section of the film lacks the sweet tone of the first two acts and starts to drag a bit before it is pulled back into line.

With not quite as many gratuitous, mouth-watering images of Indian and French cuisine as the food-porn addicts might have been hoping for, The Hundred-Foot Journey is The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel meets Chocolat, but losing its steam a bit towards the end means it doesn’t end up being quite as good as either.

Rating: ★★★☆

Review by Duncan McLean

Have you seen The Hundred-Foot Journey? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.

Review – Safe Haven (2013)

Director: Lasse Hallström

Starring: Julianne Hough, Josh Duhamel, David Lyons, Cobie Smulders

Safe HavenIn the last decade Nicholas Sparks has established himself as today’s undisputed king of schmaltz. Safe Haven is the eighth Sparks’ romance to be adapted for the big screen, and it is not one of the best.

Sparks has a bit of a formula – girl meets guy, girl and guy fall in love, girl and guy get caught in the rain together, and then something dramatic threatens to keep them apart. In this case that girl is Katie and that guy is Alex, a single father who runs the general store in a small fishing village that she happens to come through. The thing threatening to derail them is Katie’s secret: she is on the run, wanted for murder and being pursued by a particularly obsessive Boston detective. The thriller element is something different from the usual formula, but isn’t particularly strong, and feels like a concession to all of the boyfriends who will be made to sit through the film by their better halves. The film plods along pleasantly enough before “surprising” you with two plot twists, one which you see coming a mile away, and the other which will surely be one of the most ridiculous and unnecessary twists you will ever come across.

Safe Haven is directed by Swedish filmmaker Lasse Hallström. Hallström has made some fine films in his career – My Life as a Dog, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Cider House Rules, and Chocolat ­to name but a few – which makes you wonder what on Earth attracted him to Safe Haven. Does he owe someone money? Does he just like spending a couple of months in a lovely location doing not overly strenuous work? More unfathomable is that it is actually his second Sparks adaptation, after 2010’s Dear John. Could he be a fan?

Katie is played by Julianne Hough, a dancer best known for her work in Footloose and Rock of Ages. Those films took advantage of her song and dance background. Safe Haven does not. Unable to employ her primary talents, it appears she has been cast for her ability to smile and wear shorts. She is one of a number of weak links in the film, with her inability to convince you of the burden that is supposedly weighing on her yet she seems so easily to forget, contributing to the ineffectiveness of the whole film. Cobie Smulders from How I Met Your Mother is on a hiding to nothing with her character, the mysterious Jo, but I don’t want to say too much in case I spoil the big twist. The only cast member who can really hold his head up is Josh Duhamel, who tries his heart out as single dad Alex in the face of substandard material, managing to be the only character who you can almost bring yourself to believe could be a real person.

But the lack of interest in the characters is not such an issue given that, as is often the case in Sparks adaptations, the real star of the film is the idyllic location. In this case it is the picturesque fishing town of Southport, North Carolina. Just lovely.

Schmaltzy romances don’t have to be bad, but this one is.

Rating – ★★

Review by Duncan McLean