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Film Reviews: "My Old Lady" and "The Hundred-Foot Journey"

The hundred-foot old lady


"My Old Lady"

(PG-13), Directed by Israel Horovitz

Opens Friday at the Little Theatre and Pittsford Cinema

Making his filmmaking debut at the age of 75, "My Old Lady" finds veteran playwright Israel Horovitz adapting from his own 2002 play. Kevin Kline plays Mathias (though he prefers to go by Jim), an uptight New Yorker who finds that he's inherited an apartment in France from his estranged, recently deceased father. Thrice-divorced, broke, and a recovering alcoholic with only a number of unpublished novels to show for it, Mathias hopes to sell the apartment for a tidy sum and make a fresh start with the earnings. But upon arrival, he's shocked to find 92-year-old Mathilde (Maggie Smith) residing in the apartment.

Mathilda explains that she comes as sort of a package deal with the property due to viager, a nutty French real estate agreement in which the buyer of a property pays a monthly fee to the seller, who's allowed to continue living in the property, and the buyer only gains possession of the property once the seller has died -- the idea being that the buyer is gambling that they'll get the property for a bargain, so long as the seller kicks off fairly quickly. It's an arrangement Mathilda had reached with Mathias' father, and seeing as how it means Mathias has basically inherited a debt, he views it as the final insult of their rocky relationship. To complicate matters further, Mathilde also lives with her overly protective daughter, Chloé (Kristin Scott Thomas), who has her own hopes of gaining ownership of her beloved family home.

At first glance, the setup seems tailor-made for whimsy and sitcom-y laughs, but Horovitz has a bit more on his mind, and the story wades into darker territory than you might expect. While the first half of the film gets bogged down in bureaucratic real estate mumbo-jumbo, as Mathias tries to finagle a deal to rid himself of the apartment for a profit, "My Old Lady" only grows more compelling as it goes on. Their close proximity leads Mathias to discover exactly how close Mathilda's relationship was with his father, uncovering seething familial resentments, and eventually leading him to fall off the wagon.

Horovitz makes for a perfectly adequate film director, though the story maintains a stagey theatricality, with the actors delivering lengthy monologues that likely played better on the stage. And though things wrap up a bit too tidily, the marvelous performances from all three leads are what truly resonate.

"The Hundred-Foot Journey"

(PG), Directed by Lasse Hallström

Now playing

Feeling very much like a throwback to the Oscar-baity films Miramax put out with great frequency in the late 90's, "The Hundred-Foot Journey" bears more than a passing resemblance to films like "Chocolat" and "The Cider House Rules"; movies that have a tendency to feel more like comforting bowls of chicken soup than actual films (though there's no denying that sometimes it is exactly what hits the spot). So it's no surprise to find that Swedish director Lasse Hallström, the filmmaker responsible for both of those much-loved films, is also behind this latest cinematic concoction.

Once again showing us how food has the power to unite even the most diametrically opposed individuals, "The Hundred-Foot Journey" tells the story of an Indian family forced to flee their home by circumstances beyond their control. When their car breaks down in a small village in France, Papa Kadam (Om Puri), takes it as a sign and decides to set up shop, opening a restaurant highlighting the food made by his son, Hassan (the distractingly attractive Manish Dayal), a talented cook with aspirations of becoming a chef.

The only problem is the location he's chosen happens to be directly across the street from a revered, Michelin-starred restaurant run by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren, showing remarkable restraint in a role that could easily have been played as scenery-chewing caricature). The snobbish Madame Mallory looks down on the family; their loud music and spicy food is at odds with her more refined style of classical French cuisine. From there, the plot proceeds as you would expect, with the chefs feuding and butting heads before (spoiler for anyone who's never seen a movie before) ultimately learning to embrace what makes each other's culture unique. Though before reaching that point, the plot veers into a third act where the film gets oddly judgey about molecular gastronomy, and how it (in the story's eyes) lacks the soul of "real" cooking. There's also an appealing romance plotline between Hassan and Madame Mallory's sous chef, Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), who has her own aspirations of career advancement.

"The Hundred-Foot Journey" makes for perfectly pleasant viewing, but things only truly come to life during the film's many scenes tantalizing meals and lovingly-photographed produce. For the film about bold flavors and the spice of life, this "Journey" too often tastes frustratingly bland.