It’s too bad the Michelin ratings system for restaurants doesn’t apply to movies, because Lasse Hallström’s The Hundred-Foot Journey (C+) is hovering between two and three stars. Although sentimental and sure to please folks in search of a formulaic adult crowd pleaser amidst summer blockbusters, it’s missing the ingredients of something truly scrumptious as the director throws in every flavor but subtlety. Helen Mirren channels Cruella de Ville as the owner of a classic French restaurant; and she slings rather than delivers pies to her new neighbors, a culinary family from India. It’s confit versus curry as a battle of restaurants commences, with Om Puri meeting Mirren’s tit for tat with the dramatic range of a sledgehammer. Only two young spice whisperers at rival restaurants played earnestly by Manish Dayal and Charlotte Le Bon bring a few acting bonbons to this cliché soufflé. Most of the film is middlebrow, saccharine and predictable. Even the food porn is soft core (c’mon, le directeur du Chocolat!) although the film’s settings are often pretty as a postcard. Hoping there would be a bit more pillage in the village, I just kept thinking there must be more than this provincial lark.
Writer/director Jon Favreau’s Chef (A-) is an ordinary story told extraordinarily about a man’s journey to the brink and back, set against a topical landscape blending the zest of cooking for a living, the zeitgeist of social media as a buzz builder for a restauranteur’s commerce, the influence of one’s family and friends on one’s well-being and keen observations about the melting pot of America with mixed families and split households struggling to make their spiritual soufflés rise with righteousness. Effective in the lead role, Favreau is a veritable lava cake of emotions in need of a new direction, and the story takes him from L.A. to Miami, New Orleans and Austin on a quest to reclaim his food, friends and fatherhood. Sofía Vergara as his ex and John Leguizamo as his kitchen mate are wonderful in supporting roles. Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey Jr. and Dustin Hoffman all make high-impact cameos. It’s an emotional feast with laughs that surface naturally from the story. Check operating hours for your nearest Cuban cuisine before viewing, because you will want a Little Havana style sandwich after watching this film.
Explore my “fantasy food trucks” based on foodie films in my story on BuzzFeed.
Mary Poppins may have crooned that a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, but a powerful new documentary provides some tough medicine indeed about how the sugar in the modern American diet is killing off an increasingly obese generation. Sarah Soechtig’s Fed Up (A) blends dynamic storytelling techniques with individual kids’ stories interlaced with shocking snapshots from the food industry and government lobbying traced back nearly four decades, illuminating insights from modern experts and clever informational graphics that make facts pop. Underscoring the severity of an epidemic and personal addictions but offering compelling solutions to make small steps for awareness and change, narrator Katie Couric guides this Inconvenient Truth for food in a way that crystallizes and catalyzes facts and perspectives to make a phenomenal impact. After viewing the film, you won’t be able to view your kitchen cupboard or many of your rituals the same way.