Review: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012)

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel


John Maddn
Ol Parker (Novel: Deborah Moggach)
124 min.
Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Maggie Smith, Ronald Pickup, Celia Imrie, Dev Patel, Lilette Dubey, Tena Desae
MPAA Rating
PG-13 for sexual content and language

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Source Material

Age has a way of molding our perspective on life. Years spent moving through the machinations of mundane activities come into stark focus as we look back at our mistakes and regrets in hopes of finding a way to live the remainder of our days in comfort and satisfaction. While some are blessed to have few regrets about their estimable lives, many others don’t have that satisfaction. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel examines the relationships of seven retirees whose lives have had varying degrees of success and failure, who embark on am inexpensive trip to Jhodpur, India where their lives will intertwine and each will learn something new about themselves and about each other.

The film doesn’t give each character the same motiviation in this regard. Tom Wilkinson’s Graham Dashwood has returned to the place where he grew up, hoping to encounter a long lost love whose relationship with Graham caused fractures with his family; Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton as Douglas and Jean Ainslie portray a financially strapped couple trying to squeeze out a meager living while their daughter squanders their former nest egg; As Muriel Donnelly, Maggie Smith plays a bigoted teacher whose small pension doesn’t afford her the kind of medical services she needs, forcing her to travel to India where she can get a needed procedure; Ronald Pickup as Norman Cousins hopes merely to find a woman with whom he can exercise his considerable sexual desires; and in the role of Madge Hardcastle, Celia Imrie evokes a wonton spirit as a lovelorn woman hoping to meet a rich, Indian man who can give her the luxurious life she desires.

All seven agree to live in a ramshackle “retirement community” run by the starry-eyed Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel), whose attempts to corral these disparate denizens mark his troubled attempt to make a success out of a property his late father bequeathed to his sons, two of whom want nothing to do with the hotel. Reflecting the younger lives of his tenants, Sonny faces his own struggles against a domineering mother (Lilette Dubey) who wants and expects more for her wayward youngest child. She frowns at his failure to meet a fine young, respectable woman with whom he can share his life. His choice is a beautiful, but entirely too common woman named Sunaina (Tena Desae) whose upbringing is not what his mother desires for her son, even though he wants to wed for love, not convenience.

The myriad stories don’t blend together entirely well, but they are compelling tidbits that keep the audience entertained. Dench’s anchoring performance keeps the film moving along while Wilkinson’s subdued performance is kind experienced actors give when they have nothing further to prove. Wilton, Nighy, Pickup and Imrie are all fine in fairly generic roles, but the disappointment here is Smith. For decades, Smith has delivered some tremendous performances and perhaps she’s gotten into a surly mode in the British export Downton Abbey, but her paper thin character relies entirely on poorly-timed bigoted expressions and insufficient development to explain her eventual, expected reversal. Smith works with what she’s given and there are moments when she’s entirely affecting, but the majority of the film predicates her character on a specific end goal that doesn’t serve the film as well as it should.

Much of John Madden’s direction is turgid, a rote exercise in unexceptional filmmaking techniques. With a story like this, it doesn’t seem like a necessity to go overboard with colorful flourishes or exciting camera angles, but even with cinematographer Ben Davis’ uninspired photography, the film limply focuses itself on a story that needs a touch of embellishment or excitement to electrify the audience. Ol Parker’s paint-by-numbers screenplay works in spite of itself thanks to seasoned actors who understand the dynamics of creating relatable people. Apart from Smith’s colloquial character, the denizens of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel are warm, passionate persons whose stereotypical constructions would fail without the proper guidance from the actors.

It’s hard for those who haven’t reached the challenging age of the film’s primary characters to identify with the struggles they are going through and perhaps my own disillusionment with aspects of the film are rooted in that lack of proper centering. However, there is enough wit and charm onscreen to convey a simple understanding of the process through which these individuals have gone and are continuing to go. Years of comfort and security have been replaced by uncertainty and fear. They are no longer able to live the kinds of independent lives to which they were accustomed and, for some, this is the first chance they have to escape the strictures of their prior lives. The combination of frustration and relief is apparent throughout the film, which makes it an ideal film to unify perspectives between the young and old.

With which of these various stereotypes will we ultimately identify. Can seeing the results of differing types of lives help us understand ourselves and our own futures? The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel may be a film delivered for a specific older audience, but younger audiences, with the right motivation and propulsion, can use the film as a guide. Will the film enable you to identify where your life must change to avoid the hardships on display or are you on the right path. Age may be a contemplative necessity for those who’ve already fulfilled most of their lives, but even the young may find a way to exist or adjust to live a better life through the examples of those who are older.
Oscar Prospects
Potentials: Supporting Actress: Maggie Smith
Unlikelies: Adapted Screenplay
Review Written
December 27, 2012

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