Saturday, October 11, 2014

Movie review: The Hundred Foot Journey

This film was adorable. Deliciously fluffy. The best features of this movie are of course the food but also the way it glorifies the Taste Face. If you are a person who likes to watch other people experience pure joy and epiphany then you would probably like this movie. I enjoyed it thoroughly. It made me miss my family.

Now that said, the entire premise of the main character Hassan's progress is slightly irksome to me. He supposedly has this magical Stuff which makes him innately, some sort of genius chef (who can cook you into orgasm even with badly burned and bandaged hands). Most of you who know me or read my words on the the regular already know that I dislike the entire construct of the genius and consider how we romanticism overnight success extremely unhealthy. So the whole "he's got the right stuff and I can taste it" crap kinda bothered me. And I, like Hassan's love interest Marguerite, had to keep fighting to get over my knowledge about what a crock the idea of "natural genius" is.

When I could get over the hokey of that premise, this movie's visuals and style of storytelling hit my nostalgia bones in a good way. The dialogue is almost slapstick, but it has a very classic american-ideal-of-paris quality to it. It reminded me of Sabrina (the 1954 version, not the 1995 disaster) and a few of the other rom coms of the period that I watched when I went through my teenage obsession with Audrey Hepburn. There was a simple and naive sort of passion to this film and all of its characters' motivations.

Granted some of this romanticism comes from the exotificaiton of cultures that are considered "other". And yeah, I know, this film does plenty of work to put equally degrading dialogue into the mouths of both races represented here. But come on. Equal opportunity insults are no substitute for honest depictions of the awkward and subtle way that tension builds up between people of different backgrounds and cultures. Especially when there's a history of oppression and skewed power dynamics there.

With easily identifiable rights and wrongs, and extremely few supporting characters. The friction portrayed is overly simplistic. It is the story book version of cultural exchange and tolerance. At best this can give the message that cooperative and joyful exchange between cultures is possible and beneficial. At worst we get an endorsement of the "melting pot" mythology that has and continues to erase the heritage of those with less privilege (read here the nonwhite and nonwestern).

It's upsetting but unsurprising that The Hundred Foot Journey never even makes a real attempt at addressing the historical contexts of power and oppression would effect the relationships that these characters have. There is an almost satirically comical portrayal of the way racism affects the main character and his family members. But I am glad that this element of being immigrants without community is at least hinted at.

The thing I was most disappointed by was the romantic story line of the main character and another chef. Now I don't want to spoil anything, but the lack of communication between them and odd treatment of the boundaries of their relationship left me in question about the kind of character Marguerite actually was. And I suspect her character development was sacked for a happy coupling that such uplifting films seem to require I guess. Oh well, another female character's complexity sacrificed to the protagonist's development.

But it was still very fun. Also most of the story is given away on the trailer, so um, you don't really neeeeeeed to watch it. I recommend having foodstuffs nearby when you see it.

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