If you catch whiffs of Chocolat, you’re not imagining them: This middlebrow culture-clash foodie fable, based on a novel by Richard C. Morais, shares more than just a director with that Juliette Binoche confection. There’s also the quaint, postcard-ready French setting, the heavy-handed musings on the mystical power of spices, and a prickly, purse-lipped antagonist butting against the threat of change.
The latter, Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren, in a deliciously salty turn), oversees a starched-linen fine-dining temple in the south of France. Her primary concern is securing yet another Michelin star—that is, until thrifty Mumbai import Papa (Om Puri) and his brood move in across the road to open a vindaloo-stirring, A.R. Rahman–soundtracked eatery of their own, helmed by kitchen-prodigy son Hassan (Manish Dayal).
The movie’s never tastier than when screen vets Mirren and Puri are sparring, pettily buying out each other’s produce at the local market or bellyaching to the town’s mayor. But when that rivalry reduces to a low simmer in favor of Hassan’s rags-to-riches rise in the food world, the story goes bland. The film should have taken a cue from its spice-loving subjects and jacked up the heat.
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