I entirely understand why the marketing team for Walt Disney Studios and Dreamworks Pictures invited me to a screening of The Hundred-Foot Journey starring Helen Mirren, Manish Dayal, and Om Puri last week. Even as a food-obsessed avid moviegoer, I wasn’t planning to see the movie in the theater. I wanted to watch it eventually, sure, but it looked like one of those feel-good, fun-for-the-entire-family films that I could enjoy from the comfort of my living room while also browsing Twitter. It was feel-good, and your whole family probably will like it, but it’s so, so much more than that. It made me feel so many feelings. I had tears in my eyes for about 75% of it, and I had tears on my cheeks for the rest of it. It was unexpectedly beautiful and a must-see for anyone who’s passionate about cooking and food.
Nitehawk Cinema is an eat-in movie theater in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where servers bring food right to your seat throughout the show. You share a small table with the person next to you and write your order on slips of paper that attach to the front of the table and that the servers watch for while the movie’s playing.
The menu is full of new American classics like burgers and Carolina BBQ short rib sandwiches, familiar sides like tator tots with a twist in the form of queso and scallions, favorites from other cultures like quesadillas and empanadas, plus some frou frou farro and kale salads for the health-conscious. There are themed food and drink specials to go along with each movie, and sure, being served a meat and cheese tray in the midst of a film can be a little distracting, but I’m not complaining when I’m chomping chorizo a minute later. Plus, the theater plays these amazing retro ads and old movie mashups before the show that are better than any preview.
That night, we were served two types of popcorn to enjoy during the movie: herbes de Provence popcorn to represent the French cooking, and curry popcorn to represent the Indian.
Likewise, I had a glass of sauvignon blanc, and my boyfriend had a Kingfisher beer.
It’s hard for me to say exactly why the movie hit me so hard. Maybe it’s because Indian food was the first “ethnic cuisine” I ate when I left my tiny farming town and moved to the city, and I still remember what it was like for me to taste samosas and kormas and dosas as an adult who had grown up eating only American food. There’s this moment at the very beginning of the film where the young Hassan races through the streets of India, trying to catch a man who’s bringing sea urchin to a stall in the market. The moment he pops open the shell and smells uni for the first time, and his face melts into bliss–I know what that feels like.
Or maybe it’s that my Michelin-starred restaurant experiences have been so meaningful to me. I absolutely loved this scene where the director was trying to show the difference between the hearty, rustic Indian cuisine by panning over big pots full of curry at the Indian family restaurant and then cutting to a clean white plate spotted with tiny foods barely big enough to cover a spoon at the Michelin restaurant across the street. Later, we’re shown a sleek, supposedly soulless restaurant in Paris using molecular gastronomy techniques, where the clientele constantly demands style over substance. And I love all of those things! At that moment, I felt so lucky to have grown up eating the food of my family, the incredibly newfangled food at restaurants like Atera and wd-50, and the classic teeny tiny foods at Per Se and Eleven Madison Park.
I’ll stop giving away everything in the movie, but the scene that really made me tear up was the one where Hassan opens up his family’s spice box full of their own special blends, and I didn’t recognize a single word on any of the jars, and my heart was filled with all of this joy over secret family recipes and the fact that with all I’ve eaten, there’s so much more I have to eat.
This movie made me fall even more in love with food, family, and France. The acting was fantastic, the characters seemed real, and the entire audience laughed all the way through it. I understand why the marketing team for Walt Disney Studios and Dreamworks Pictures invited me to a screening of The Hundred-Foot Journey, because you can’t fit how wonderful this movie is into a 30-second preview.
It opens nationwide today, and if you’re a food lover of any kind, I hope you’ll go see it.