The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Details: (PG), 123 mins, In Cinemas 22 March 2012, United Kingdom, English
Synopsis: A group of misfit British pensioners are enticed to retire to a fabulous hotel in Jaipur, India, where they are promised to live a life of luxury for a bargain price. Upon their arrival, they are dismayed to find that restoration of the once elegant Marigold Hotel has stalled. There is water…sometimes. And electricity…sometimes. The hotel’s eager manager, a young Indian entrepreneur, is quick to tell them that his ambitious renovation is going to turn the place around. Surprisingly, the retirees find themselves settling into this strange new world and creating bonds with each other. What their new life lacks in luxury they come to find is plentiful in adventure, stunning beauty, peace and love.
British retirees rediscover a lust for life in uneven Indian-set dramedy.
When a distinguished British cast led by two Dames, Dench and Smith, is packaged together with a proven director in the Oscar-nominated John Madden and a screenplay based on a popular novel, it should be the recipe for something fine, even sublime. Yet despite the efforts of the assembled talent, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel falls short of the memorable achievement that might have resulted.
Sure, the film is entertaining, by turns amusing and poignant, and worth catching if only for the rare opportunity of seeing some of England’s most esteemed thespians on screen together; who knows when, if ever, these senior citizens will share a stage again?
Adapted from Deborah Moggach’s novel These Foolish Things, the tale of transplanted Brits in India pulls out all the usual clichés of foreigners floundering in an unfamiliar environment. The tone veers, often unsteadily, from larky humour to mawkish melodrama, most of the plotlines follow a predictable course and some characters are stereotypes.
The prologue neatly establishes the back stories of seven Poms and their reasons for deciding to journey to the eponymous hotel on the outskirts of Jaipur.
Judi Dench’s Evelyn is still reeling from the death of her husband of 40 years, is forced to sell their flat but unwilling to move in with her son and his family. Tom Wilkinson’s
Graham is a retired High Court judge who returns to India on a mission relating to unhappy events of 40 years earlier.
Maggie Smith is forcibly retired housekeeper Muriel, a crabby, unapologetic racist who’s a female counterpart to Alf Garnett (younger readers who aren’t familiar with Alf are advised to Google Till Death Us Do Part). She’s been told she needs a hip replacement which can be readily obtained in India, avoiding a six months wait in Blighty.
Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton are Douglas and Jean, whose retirement nest egg has been wiped out by an ill-considered investment in their daughter’s internet start-up venture. They’re such opposites – Douglas is genial and diffident, Jean an overbearing, unlikable snob – you may wonder, but not for long, why they’ve stayed together.
Celia Imrie’s much-married Madge has tired of looking after her grandkids and is on the lookout for a new soul mate, or mates.
Randy old Norman (Ronald Pickup) is having no luck at speed dating sessions and hopes Indian ladies will fall for his dubious charms.
The spiffy-looking establishment shown on the internet, designed for “the elderly and the beautiful”, inevitably turns out to be in urgent need of repair. The startled guests are assured by the manager Sonny (Slumdog Millionaire’s Dev Patel), who inherited the joint from his father, that renovations are planned; failing that, he explains, they can have refunds “straight away… in three months”.
Sonny’s bossy, over-protective mother (Lillette Dubey) wants him to marry a girl from a well-to-do family in Delhi, dismissing his protests that he already has a girlfriend (Tena Desae). The resolution of that familiar sub-plot will not surprise anyone.
Nor is it a shock when Muriel discovers Indian food isn’t awful and the locals are actually quite nice when you get to know them, a transformation which does seem a little contrived despite Smith’s artistry.
There is some bonding within the group although the strains in Douglas and Jean’s relationship cause tensions.
Graham’s quest to reconnect with his past is the most intriguing and dramatically-invested part of the narrative, superbly realised by Wilkinson in a role that’s quite a departure for the actor.
Dench, as ever, is a joy to watch, particularly in her scenes with Wilkinson and Nighy, as her character strives to redefine herself as an individual instead of one-half of a marriage. Dench is such a gifted actress she conveys more emotion by her expressive looks than by the occasionally banal dialogue she’s asked to utter as the narrator.
Imrie’s Madge gets some of the funniest lines as when she declares, “I’m single by choice, just not my choice,” and “I don't want to be the first person they let off the train in a hostage crisis”.
Patel is grating initially as an over-exuberant, amped-up ethnic stereotype but he’s allowed to show more depth in a later exchange with Dubey and Desae.
Madden doesn’t handle the shifts in moods all that adeptly, surprisingly for a director whose work has covered a broad range from his Oscar-winner Shakespeare in Love to Proof and The Debt.
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