It was a mistake to have Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg (the producers) talk before the movie started. It already takes you out of the film. The first thing that popped into my mind was that Winfrey went on a rant once while in France because a store was closed and wouldn’t open up to let her in. She claimed it was racism. The store said they don’t ever open up after hours, and simply didn’t recognize her. Yet when she came to Point Loma’s High Tech High, someone I know had a child going there. She wouldn’t take a picture with her, but would stop and take photos with the black kids. Nice racism there, Oprah. So really…if she wanted to throw your money behind a book she loved, that’s great. She just started things off by ruining it for me. If she wanted to talk about the story and how cultures are being brought together – go appear on Letterman and promote it like everyone else does. You don’t want the audience wondering if you’re going to be popping your big head into the proceedings once the movie has started, simply to give us your take on what you’ve seen. Wait for the DVD and do the commentary on that. Stick to putting yourself on the cover of O Magazine, and leave the movie to the filmmakers.Director Lasse Hallstrom hasn’t impressed me much. The last thing I remember him doing was the extremely boring Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (Ewan McGregor/Emily Blunt). He did the rather lame romantic-comedy Something to Talk About (Julia Roberts/Dennis Quaid); and he directed the okay Johnny Depp movie Chocolat. Here he’s given us another okay movie that has to do with food.
This is a film that could’ve been really awful and I’m sure some critics will think it is. The whole Hallmark/Disney/Lifetime vibe of the premise can be hard to swallow (quick note: that will be the only food pun I make in this entire review).
A chic restaurant frequented by dignitaries is run by the stuffy Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren). A family of cooks that had to flee India, and didn’t have much luck in London, end up having their car break down in France. It happens to be near a cute chef who works for Madame Mallory and it just so happens – the business across the street is for sale. Soon, the family of Indians, with the smells of curry and loud music wafting into the restaurant, has created animosity with everyone at the fancy joint. This first leads to funny fights at the farmers market, but escalates. Yet it won’t be hard to guess the directions any of this is going to go in. It’s kind of like this picture is comfort food for the moviegoer.
Since I have the palate of a 12-year-old, listening to cooks argue over which is better between coq au vin and escargot or tandoori chicken and curry – doesn’t make my mouth water the way it will most. Yet I’m guessing even if I had watched this on an empty stomach, it would’ve been torture. Be warned.
Watching two chefs that cook completely different types of food was enjoyable, and this is a charming cast that has great chemistry together.
The gorgeous town of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, in the South of France, makes for some great shots. Actress Charlotte Le Bon is gorgeous as well, and in one of the few un-Hollywood things about the movie…she doesn’t have perfect teeth. It’s refreshing to see a beautiful woman on screen that isn’t super-model perfection. It was also refreshing that the young, star chef of the Maison Mumbai restaurant, is played by Manish Daval. He isn’t the nerdy guy pining for a girl he’ll never get. He has a few funny lines, and is just charming enough; but more important – he’s an amazing cook. And the way to a woman’s heart is through her stomach (if that woman’s a sous chef).
Since the camera work is more impressive than the script (which Steven Knight adapted from the Richard C. Morai novel), special mention should be given to Linus Sandgren. He’s the cinematographer that captured both the locales and food brilliantly.
Since I mentioned Charlotte Le Bon being cute, despite not having the perfect teeth – it should be noted that actor Om Puri – who was great with his subtle facial expressions or angry rants – had a W.C. Fields nose that was distracting at times; and Dame Hellen Mirren looks like she’s had a bad face left. It’s a shame, because at 69 I think we all would agree that she probably looked amazing even with more wrinkles.
There is a scene were Mirren has to fire a loyal chef that was done brilliantly. The scene that followed even brought a tear to my eye.
The way the young romance blossoms, but has a bit of jealousy involved, as Le Bon can’t completely root for her rivals success despite possibly having feelings for him.
There were enough good scenes in this that I have to admit enjoying my two hours with these characters.
It’s the perfect date movie, unless you’re dating a vegetarian. So many fish and pigeons were killed and served up, I’m guessing Mike Tyson will run from the theatre screaming (because of course, Tyson will be first in line for an artsy movie dealing in the culinary arts).
This gets 3 (Michelin) stars out of 5.