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So Long and Thanks for All the Fish: "The Hundred-Foot Journey"

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Film Reviews | August 8, 2014 | Comments ()


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A weird thing happened when they made The Hundred-Foot Journey. See, at face value it’s one of the movies about food and family and the human heart and I’m bored and making a lemon sucking face just typing that tripe.

And they succeeded in that step, making a perfectly mediocre and irrelevant foodie movie, full of those lines like “food is memory” and something about love, I don’t know, seriously I wasn’t paying much attention to any of that. I’m sure someone likes food movies the way that others of us with good taste like the way that all sports movies are exactly the same movie. So if you’re into that, um, bully for you, here’s a film for you. The south of France! Hijinks! Crazy ingredients! A brilliant young chef! Michelin Stars! Picking mushrooms in the forest! Go get your Eat, Pray, Vomit on if that’s your thing.

The film features very human characters, real portraits of people even in the smallest of roles. It allows the very good actors it has throughout the room to breathe in their roles, letting life be a succession of small movements and evolutions rather than dramatic set pieces of emotion. The script allows actors to say things without words, instead of foisting overwrought speeches and half-assed philosophy upon the audience, as seems to be a tradition in this little sub-genre.

So I’m being a bit cruel, and I suppose criticizing the genre more than this film in particular. Because come on, it’s kind of a fun genre to crap on.

But here’s the exceedingly strange thing. While it is a decent food movie, it’s also simultaneously a very interesting and nuanced movie about the nature of genius. Sure, it’s a genius with cooking, but the deepest parts of the movie’s story would not be out of place if all the food was exchanged for math or literature, or any other field of human endeavor.

It’s reflected in the deep sadness and hope of so many of the characters. Of a father who hopes his son is as good as he seems, of an old restaurateur who resents young genius even as she can’t deny its power. Of the would-be lover who can’t help but be devoured by envy, her quiet indignation at the unfairness of not having the touch herself no matter how much she craves it and no matter how much she works at it.

And it gets that genius is something that is worked at. That while it’s a thing that is born into the souls of some rare talents, that it’s not something that’s free. It shows the endless hours of work, the infinite devotion of every waking moment to a perfection. So much of our culture likes to pretend that genius is magic, some totem that a chosen few get, and that they live charmed lives of ease. Or alternately that they pay a karmic price for it by teetering on the edge of mental illness, so that “tortured” is practically implied by the word in pop culture.

But genius, real genius in the flesh and not on cheap cinema, is more about blood and sweat than it is about being struck by divine favor. Yes, that latter element is the sine qua non, but it’s nothing but wasted potential without the dedication, without the grit. This doesn’t make geniuses saints, nor arrogant pricks, nor anything in between. And this movie really gets that on a fundamental level, and teases it out with all its implications.

Yes, it’s a food movie, and one that I expected to be at best an entertaining and well-acted lark. I hardly expected a meditation on genius, which makes it a far better movie than it appears at first blush.

Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here and order his novel here.




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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • m lyon

    Basically I don't think you were the right critic to review this movie. I don't understand the description "food movie". This isn't a movie about food. It's a movie about culture clash. It's a slight little movie with some good performances. It's a simple movie with which to have a simple good time if that's your kind of thing. That's the level on which it deserved to be reviewed. It isn't bad enough or important enough to deserve the snide, snarky review you gave it. The kind of review you wrote should be reserved for movies that aim high and fail horribly...movies with pretensions of greatness. I don't think mentioning this movie in the same breath with a piece of dreck like Eat, Love, Pray is at all fair. This isn't dreck, just cozy predictable simple. It succeeds at what it aims to be. The best film criticism judges movies for how close they come to what they're aiming to be, and for the audience at which they're aiming. With that criteria, this is an okay little movie.

  • e jerry powell

    But every time I see Helen Mirren in a restaurant, I expect lots of fucking in deeply saturated colors...

  • Benny Gesserit

    "Cannibal!" BANG!

  • emmalita

    I'm surprised. The ads make the movie look like the kind of treacly mess I avoid. I might Netflix this one.

  • Benny Gesserit

    I felt the same about about The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel but was quite taken with it - its mastery of adjective precedence being icing on the cake.

  • Uriah_Creep

    I was about to mention Best Exotic Marigold, a movie I enjoyed much more than i expected.

  • I love food. But I hate food movies. Even Big Night, which all the critics raved about, nearly bored the tits offa me.
    I love eating good food. I don't understand why food-porn movies don't do it for me.

  • emmalita

    The only food movie I can even remember is Babette's Feast. It's such a quiet movie that the details have stayed with me, though I haven't seen it in over a decade.

  • That is one my mother's favorite movies. She's a big fan of Dinesen's writing and it carried over into the movie.

  • e jerry powell

    If you tell me you've never seen Cook/Thief, I'm gonna have to smack you...

  • emmalita

    The Cook, the Theif, His Wife, and Her Lover? I've seen it, but not for years and years. 8 hours ago I was still celebrating the defeat of my enemy by consuming her heart and drinking her blood (not really) and Babette's Feast was all that came to mind. Since then the rest of my brain has resumed normal operations. Sad. I do need to see that and Eat Drink again.

    Also Tampopo. And then I need to eat some good ramen.

  • e jerry powell

    I went to the noodle house, but I didn't get the ramen, I got the seafood rice noodles.

  • If you're going to drink someone's blood in triumph, you need to do it out of their skull. Remember to hold it up over your head and pour it into your mouth. Don't mind if some of it splashes down your front, it'll just look that much more impressive.

  • emmalita

    I used a princess sippy cup. It was the appropriate vessel, but next time I'll leave off the top.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Eat Drink Man Woman is a lovely film, and I've heard good things about the American remake, Tortilla Soup. Like Water for Chocolate and of course Chocolat are also food porn movies to me. Babette's Feast is one that I've meant to watch. I took an honors seminar titled "Cuisine as a Cultural Metaphor" which was essetially reading food books (MFK Fisher), watching food movies, and cooking food with our brilliant dean (the class was nicknamed "Dean Cuisine").

  • Benny Gesserit

    I have an immense physical memory of Babette's Feast! We saw it in a tiny art house cinema in midwinter - the place's heating was never the best so, in winter, you tended to watch wrapped in your coat. I just noticed you haven't seen it yet so I'll stop before I spoil. See it on a cool wet day and it will warm you from inside like a good stew.

  • emmalita

    I am jealous of your Dean Cuisine class. Eat Drink Man Woman was good. I loved the book Chocolat but I refused to see the movie when Depp was cast.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    I have had the book on my shelf for ages and still haven't read it. The movie is what it is, which is lovely and non-challenging.

    The class was fantastic. I missed the one where we tried squirrel though, since I was in rehearsal. But I did help cook a Roman feast, based on Apicius. That poor Wegman's in upstate NY, where we went shopping at 2am asking for items like fresh chervil, duck, and whole fish.

  • emmalita

    Squirrel is one of those things for which I pull out my vegetarian flag. My Appelachan ancestors may have eaten squirrel, but I'm pretty sure they didn't like it.

  • There is good eating on a squirrel, but you have to have a mess of them to make it worth your while. They're best in stew, I find, although if you have the hearts you can just fry those right up.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    I heard from the class that it "tastes like chicken, but peanutty" and so in my head it tastes like a chicken satay. but it came out of a class conversation on hunting and eating, and was shot by one of my classmates. It was an honors seminar, so only nominally graded - it really was exactly the best of college - sitting around watching interesting things with interesting people with different viewpoints than your own, plus one amazing faculty member, and eating and drinking.

  • emmalita

    Squirrels do kind of look like chicken satay, but furrier. Also more menacing. I had some good classes in college and law school. NONE OF THEM were that good. Still jealous.

  • Wednesday

    I know why they don't do it for me. Because it's usually about documenting the artistic process, and that, in and of itself, isn't a new story. There has to be more to make me care why *this* case of the artist's struggle is interesting. I did like "Big Night" but not for the food porn. I liked it for the valiant-but-doomed struggle...that shit never gets old for me.

    Otherwise I can get the same thing in 90 seconds of "Top Chef" when a cheftestant explains he was inspired to add pureed dragonfruit to the Canned Beans Challenge by their grandmother's hand-diced dragonfruit ragout recipe which had been lovingly passed down through 45 generations.

  • Benny Gesserit

    I was tempted by this one - Dame Helen has that effect - but you've pushed me over the edge.

    Eat, Pray, Vomit WAS going to be the name of my memoirs. Humph. Now I'll have to go with the 2nd choice Four Funerals and a Funeral

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