Caraway seeds make time travel possible. On the rare occasion that I savor fresh rye bread infused with them, I am taken back to my teen years, getting pulled over by the police for driving with a mannequin arm sticking out of the gas tank. My brother and I were coming back from the deli. I had one hand on the wheel and was with the other noshing on a klobasa sandwich.
We are simpatico, me and the Haji family of the poignant film “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” who profess, “Food is memories.”
For one thing, it’s how they continue to embrace their mother who was killed when the family was chased from their Mumbai restaurant. After a failed attempt elsewhere in Europe, they establish new roots in a small French village where their car breaks down.
Seeing in that misfortune serendipitous opportunity, Papa (Om Puri) decides to open an Indian eatery across from pretentious Helen Mirren’s critically-acclaimed place. Son Hassan (Manish Dayal), who inherited his mother’s unique taste, cannot help but distinguish himself as a cook. But he has little time to recognize his struggle between ambition and obligation when he quickly grows out of the family kitchen to a position under Mirren, and then as chef in a trendy Paris bistro.
There he thrives but does not find satisfaction. Why not, he doesn’t know until a laborer offers him a taste of his wife’s humble home-cooking. “Every bite takes you home,” he tells the man before realizing his place is back in the village.
“The Hundred-Foot Journey,” so named for the distance between Mirren’s dining room and the upstart Maison Mumbai, is based on the similarly-titled book by Richard C. Morais.
Mirren, always a joy to watch, is especially delicious as the bitter restaurateur for whom one Michelin star is not enough and will stop at nothing to julienne the competition including stirring up (-in?) dangerous xenophobia. She’s met her match in Papa’s resolve and optimism, and that acrimonious interaction is as watchable as is the burgeoning relationship between Hassan and Mirren’s adorable sous-chef Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon).
It’s easy to overlook this one’s predictability, but its bland score is harder to swallow. Still, a more pleasant film I have not seen this year.
Med City Movie Guy’s rating: 4 Honks
Food, Glorious Food
If there’s one thing moviegoers like more than sitting in a theater eating, it’s sitting in a theater watching people eat on screen. Here’re a few that will work-up your appetite:
— Ratatouille. It’s not a UB40 song, there really is a rat in the kitchen. He’s the magnificent chef Remy (Patton Oswalt) in this 2007 Pixar classic. And who can’t relate to how he finally wins over the snobbish critic voiced by Peter O’Toole? Certainly not the guy with a mannequin arm for a gas cap.
— With a pinch of parody and a dash of mimicry, Meryl Streep cooked-up a tasty homage to Julia Child in the 2009 comedy “Julie & Julia” that co-starred Amy Adams as a blogger trying to prepare all of the recipes in the famed television chef’s iconic tome, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”
— Jon Favreau hits the road in a food truck to make some culinary headlines and along the way bonds with his son in this year’s “Chef.” Not typical Favreau fare, but worth indulging.
— “Fast Food Nation” (2006). A competent adaptation of Eric Schlosser’s bestseller that all at once addresses immigration, the changing family/social landscape and the stuff in our foodstuffs. This one had me asking, “I know what’s in Soylent Green but what, exactly, is in this burger?” Hint: you don’t want to know. Greg Kinnear stars.
— Tons (ha ha!) of Hollywood actors gain weight for movie roles — Dwayne Johnson for “Hercules” and Robert De Niro for both “The Untouchables” and “Raging Bull,” for instance — but few do it to make a point like filmmaker Morgan Spurlock in his 2004 documentary “Super Size Me.” Spurlock subsisted only on the McDonald’s menu for a month chronicling his road to portliness and the consequential ill effects. An entertaining and cautionary tale that … hey, are you gonna finish those fries?