THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY (PG)
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom
A couple of years ago, stuck for something to read on a flight, I picked up a book called How I Became a Famous Novelist.
It's a satire, and a very funny one, about a struggling wannabe writer who steals every idea he can from the massed ranks of books he sees in airport bookshops and then combines them into one sure-fire best-selling romance.
He calls the book The Tornado Ashes Club, and it sells by the truckload.
I don't know if Steven Knight, who wrote the script for The Hundred-Foot Journey has read How I Became a Famous Novelist. Admittedly, he hardly needs to.
Knight already has Eastern Promises and Dirty Pretty Things on his CV. And he wrote and directed the brilliant Locke, which was just about my favourite film from this year's international festival.
But what Knight has done with The Hundred-Foot Journey fair reeks of a script written to cover all the bases, or perhaps as an elaborate joke.
Try this: An Indian family run a successful restaurant in their home country. But sectarian violence takes their business, and, tragically, their mother.
The family immigrate to the picturesque southern French countryside, where they set up a new restaurant while restoring a beautiful old farmhouse, which just happens to be across the road from a traditional Michelin-starred eatery run by an impossibly frosty and elegant widow, who employs a beautiful young sous chef, who is about the same age as the handsome eldest son of the Indian family.
Yes readers, it's My Best Exotic Eat Drink Summer Hours Year in Provence, directed by the same bloke who made Chocolat, and produced by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey.
What could possibly go wrong?
Well actually, not much. The Hundred-Foot Journey, no matter how contrived you might think the story (and it is based on a novel, so Knight really isn't to blame, I guess) is an effective, likeable and glossily attractive shaggy dog tale, overrun with decent performances.
Helen Mirren and Om Puri (Charlie Wilson's War) are the feuding restaurateurs, while Marguerite-the-sous-chef is played by Charlotte Le Bon; the latest from that seemingly inexhaustible production-line of heartstoppingly beautiful French actresses who are forever being cast in roles that involve a lot of riding around on antique bicycles in floral cotton frocks.
Le Bon looks like Sophie Marceau, but with slightly ramshackle teeth. I was smitten.
The Hundred-Foot Journey would be a very easy film to be cynical about. But there is craft here and the film wants so much to be liked, that it would be churlish to not surrender, just a little.