Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Directed by John Madden.
2012. Rated PG-13, 124 minutes.
Penelope Wilton
Maggie Smith
Celia Imrie
Ronald Pickup
Tena Desae
Sid Makkar
Lillete Dubey
Diana Hardcastle
Seema Azmi
Paul Bhattacharjee

In rapid succession we meet various Brits all in their golden years, who don’t know each other, all going through a crisis of some sort. Evelyn (Dench) is a widow struggling to cope with the loss of her husband and will need a place to live now that she has to sell the flat they shared. Graham (Wilkinson) is seriously considering retirement and dreading the possibility. Madge (Imrie) is looking for her next husband. Norman (Pickup) is not looking for a wife, but is a horny old dude who keeps striking out. Mrs. Donelly (Smith), a blatant racist, needs a hip replacement. Who knows how long it will be before she gets to the top of that list. Mr. and Mrs. Ainslie (Nighy and Wilton, respectively) are having trouble finding suitable living arrangements after losing much of their life savings. Invariably, all of these people come across an offer to live out the rest of their days at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful. Their trips will be paid for by the hotel itself. All of them decide to take this place up on its offer. By the way, the hotel is in India. Of course, when they get there and meet the energetic, fast-talking, and youthful owner Sonny (Patel), they quickly realize things aren’t quite what they were led to believe. Unable to afford return flights back to England, they try to make the best of things.

We weave in and out of these people’s lives as they have made them in their new home. They deal with culture shock, try to get used to the food and each other, and some long for home. We also watch Sonny try to keep the failing hotel afloat, speak passionately to his girlfriend Sunaina (Desae), and argue with his mother (Dubey) about both his girl and the hotel. Through each of the numerous subplots, the surface is made up of light-hearted humor, but powered by an undercurrent of sadness. These are not happy people, but people in search of what will make them so. As expected, they must also contend with the effect their living situation has on them, not only individually, but also as a group. It’s not completely different than a septogeneric version of “Big Brother.” Though they don’t vocalize this, and no one is voted out of the hotel, we clearly see alliances form.

To the movie’s credit, the veil of comedy holds up nicely. It manages to keep us chuckling most of the way through. The cast, and the script they are working with, is so terrific in this area that it accomplishes this without resorting to making buffoons of its characters. The exception here is Sonny. He is a bit of a nut, but he has purpose. Patel gives off a fun, used car salesman vibe, but one that is somehow earnest even though he’s never sure if he can deliver on whatever has flown out of his mouth. The rest of the cast is brilliant. Credit starts at the top with the always excellent Judi Dench and the equally great Tom Wilkinson. By the way, Wilkinson’s story line is the only one without a hint of comedy. Everything surrounding him is draped in sorrow. However, he’s such a marvelous actor, and his character is written so well, it never feels out of place. Also great is Maggie Smith as Mrs. Donnelly. She does so much acting with facial expressions and makes us laugh with each one.

One of the film’s shortcomings is that it has a little bit too much going on. As proof I offer Madge and Norman. They have separate but intertwining plots forming their own little clique. Unfortunately, they both get a bit lost in the shuffle. While we’re watching the lives of the others turn upside down they disappear from the movie for a really long stretch, almost long enough to make us forget who they are. They eventually get re-introduced, but it feels like their fates are afterthoughts in comparison to the rest of the bunch. This is particularly true of Madge. Nearly everything about her feels tacked on.

The other drawback is the easy ending. Everything is wrapped up in neat little bows just in time for the credits. No one we like is left unhappy while those we don’t merely clear the path for the “good guys.” For a movie that shows it can effectively deal in grays, it’s a bit disappointing for it to separate itself into clearly delineated sections of black and white. Then again, this is a comedy so I cannot rightfully expect some hard hitting and/or ambiguous finale. It just would have been nice for it to test us just a bit. Therefore, instead of being something that truly resonates, it becomes a cute and harmless picture.

Both of my complaints with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel are minor. They’re things an already good movie could have done better. As it stands, it’s an enjoyable experience. Our ensemble is an absolute delight and enables us to see all of the heart in the material. In return, we’re glad to share ours with them.

MY SCORE: 7.5/10

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