This is the kind of movie you can safely take your mother—or grandmother—to see. Like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, it is pleasant, life-affirming, and despite the presence of Indian spices onscreen, bland. Jeff Skoll’s Participant Films became involved with the production because it promotes the concept of cultural understanding through the use of food.
The venerable Om Puri plays the patriarch of a somewhat unruly, itinerant Indian family that whimsically settles in a French village. There, they open a restaurant right across the road from a celebrated establishment run by the imperious Helen Mirren. Her restaurant boasts a one-star rating in the all-important Michelin Guide, and she doesn’t take kindly to the arrival of rowdy intruders—especially as they offer an ”inferior” bill of fare. Puri’s son, a gifted chef bursting with curiosity and ambition, falls in love with one of Mirren’s protégés, a beautiful French girl who works as a sous chef in her kitchen.
Thus, all the ingredients are in place for a lighthearted romance (for the young lovers as well as the more mature leading actors) involving haute cuisine and a somewhat heavy-handed lesson about tolerance.
One might expect more nuance from screenwriter Steven Knight, whose credits include Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises, and last year’s Locke, which he also directed. But here he is adapting a successful book, by Richard C. Morais, and perhaps could not stray too far from his source material. Director Lasse Hallström guides his actors through their paces, smoothly if not subtly, amidst beautiful French scenery, but I wish someone had tightened the picture, which runs out of steam at the three-quarter mark. (I was going to say something about a soufflé falling, but you get the idea.)
This is the kind of film that seems to be winking at us in the audience from the very start, indicating that nothing is to be taken too seriously. It is merely an entertainment. I accept it on those terms, but I wish I could muster more enthusiasm for the results.