I wish it was done in 100 minutes. An easygoing feel good movie that is light on the drama but heavy on the cheese. Nice to look at but a little overcooked.
Enough food punnery! Let’s tuck in. It’s Chef meets Slumdog Millionaire in a nutshell.
The opening quickly establishes that from a young age, Hassan has a taste for flavour. A passion for food. It zips along, skimming past all the usual cliches as Hassan (Manish Dayal) tells the story of his humble upbringings from India to an uninterested stuffy French customs officer.
There are some predictable if endearing revelations as to why the family are now emigrating to France. “England was too bloody cold”, grumbles the talented Om Puri (East is East and my personal favourite The Parole Officer). An easygoing half hour has enough to keep me watching as the Kadam family reach the beautifully shot pastoral French countryside and open a restaurant directly across the road from Madame Mallory’s (Helen Mirren) Michelin-starred eatery.
An inevitable war brews between the restaurants as they compete for custom. Mirren plays the stubborn snotty French hostess with aplomb. Even if she had her upper lip pumped (tut tut tut Madame). It’s all quite tame and silly, with the odd chuckle as Mallory buys all the food in the local market so the Kadams have to drive 50 miles to the next village, for example. Inconveniences and minor scrabbles is as far as the tone of the film will allow. Puri delivers some cracking one liners and is instantly love-able. A character you’re happy to see more of.
However, he doesn’t quite get the screen time or depth to really make as much of a impression as you first thought or expected. A shame for a talented actor who has proven successful with comedies. He works well with Mirren and they have good chemistry. However, not enough was made of the tension between them and it all wraps up so predictably.
Dayal plays the role of Hassan brilliantly and is a very charismatic lead. More to see of him in the future, methinks. Inevitably he falls for fellow chef, the adorable Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon). For me, it all felt a little tame. Every obstacle felt more like a hiccup in which the family stumble but get back on their merry way with a cheesy grin.
Don’t get me wrong, there are still some surprises along the way. Especially in the brewing spat. Moments that I thought this fluffy film may not have touched. An event that resolves itself all too quickly, which leaves little for conflict after. Hassan and Marguerite’s ambition for becoming a renowned chef soon puts the sprinklers on their spurning romance. However, you just know how that story is going to end.
Hassan soon has to deal with the stress and pressure of fame as his cooking soon boasts his reputation among the cooking elite. As much as we can feel and relate to Hassan’s frustrations, you can’t help but know and predict how it’s all going to pan out with everybody smiling by the end.
For me the length was questionable. It meandered along way too much like the picturesque lake that Hassan and Marguerite share their picnics. There just wasn’t enough being made of the story or the talented cast with their loveable characters to justify it. Amit Shah, an up-and-coming comic talent was wasted in his role as Hassan’s brother-in-law Mansur. He has proven how funny he can be in The Infidel and the ITV sitcom Honest. Restricted and unmemorable.
It just about keeps you going but the tone of the film indicates what film you’re in for. An easygoing, nicey-nicey film, which isn’t a problem BUT it’s a shame because it could have been a lot more hard hitting and done in less time and been better for it.
You just can’t help but feel that if Mirren wasn’t attached to this vehicle that it might not have made the big screen altogether. The ingredients enough to serve as a ITV TV movie, at best. Uplifting, certainly. Funny, so-so. Easygoing? Yes plus it makes you want to go to France. But drama, tension and intrigue, it seems that the chef Lasse Hallstrom skipped a few steps in the cook book.
3 (just) out of 5 for me.