Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what I’ve seen over the past week either in film or television. On the film side, if I have written a full length review already, I will post a link to that review. Otherwise, I’ll give a brief snippet of my thoughts on the film with a full review to follow at some point later. For television shows, seasons and what not, I’ll post individual comments here about each of them as I see fit.
So, here is what I watched this past week:
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
A charming little film about a group of aging British citizens who take up residence in a crumbling Jodhpur, India hotel in hopes of escaping whatever malaise or hardships they faced back home. Judi Dench leads an unsurprisingly talented cast as the feisty housewife whose husband’s death and financial issues led her to the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
Her co-stars are a Who’s Who of British acting royalty including Tom Wilkinson as a retiring High Court Judge searching for the love of his life he left behind; Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton as an impoverished couple whose marriage is fading; Maggie Smith as a bigoted ex-housekeeper stuck in India getting an outsourced hip replacement; Ronald Pickup as a hopeless Lothario; and Celia Imrie as a bored woman looking to regain her youth.
They are corralled by the young, hapless owner of the hotel played by Dev Patel whose controlling mother threatens his happiness with a working class young woman played by Tena Desae who can’t hope to live up to the expectations of their fellow actors, but do a fine job nonetheless. Director John Madden hasn’t created a warm, inviting film like this since Shakespeare in Love and while the film plays too frequently on stereotypes, many of them are either softened through respectful observation or ironed out in the course of character growth.
Before embarking on some of the grandest big screen adventures in history, David Lean was a more intimate director, giving the audience compelling portraits of simple people in challenging situations. Brief Encounter is moving examination of marital malaise and the charismatic adventure that awaits an unassuming wife.
Celia Johnson is marvelous as a common housewife who stumbles into an affair with a handsome doctor. Beginning at the end of the film, a miserable Laura Jesson sits helplessly next to her paramour (Trevor Howard) at a small refreshment stand in a railway station. She is notably depressed, but the reason isn’t clear until she begins narrating her fated affair to the audience as she sits in front of her loving husband in the parlor later that evening. She wants to tell him the truth, but fears what it will do to him.
Book-ending the film as Lean does was a compelling decision. We see Johnson in a fit of deep melancholy, depressed by the guilt she feels over cheating on her husband while her two children remain blissfully unaware of her infidelity. Lean is compassionate without being accusatory, never letting Laura escape from her own self-pity but drawing the audience deep into her infidelity and generating great sympathy for her struggles. Our disappointment in and support for Laura is thanks entirely to Johnson.
Howard conveys charm and sincerity as the friendly doctor and target of Laura’s affection, but it’s clear from every angle that Lean isn’t concerned with him as more than that. This is Laura’s story and Lean knows how to let Noel Coward’s compelling story play out effectively onscreen.
Katharine Hepburn plays a young woman whose lack of family income prevents her from fitting in with the other upper crust denizens of her home town. As a surprise suitor played by Fred MacMurray gives her hope for a future, her mother (Ann Shoemaker) needles her father (Fred Stone) until he breaks away from his well respected position at a local firm and their struggles become more troublesome.
George Stevens is a director I have long enjoyed, starting with his astounding feature A Place in the Sun and continuing with the likes of Giant and The Diary of Anne Frank. Alice Adams was one of his earlier feature films and his technique was obviously developing. The melodrama inherent in Booth Tarkington’s novel is ported directly to the screen in a movie that struggles for relevance. The Adams aren’t poor, even if they refer to themselves as such, but are distinctly representative of the modern middle class family. Other directors have dealt better with the more delicate subject of poverty, most notably John Ford. Stevens’ film is heavy-handed, hoping to impress upon the audience a bit of understanding for the plight of those who are deemed irrelevant by the upper class. Yet, I only see a family built upon telegenic stereotypes that never fully develops genuine sympathy.
Hepburn’s performance is a trifle too exuberant at times, but it adds to the charm of her character, the chief reason we buy into the film at all. Fred MacMurray does an adequate job as her suitor, but never creates something believably realistic. Stone’s paternal portrayal is uneven and seemingly immmaterial while Shoemaker is seldom more than a worrisome instigator. That neither she nor her filmic husband convince you with their performances that they love their daughter, we’re forced by the screenplay to believe that they do. A special mention to Hattie McDaniel (strangely credited here as McDaniels) who provides a humorous dollop of comic relief as a hired maid for a pivotal dinner scene.
However, as such an early example of big screen adaptations, it’s hard not to expect some over-reliance on the source material and Tarkington just doesn’t seem like the kind of author I would find much interest in and were it not for Hepburn and MacMurray, I don’t think this movie would have been much remembered. I was engaged for the full running time even if I wasn’t undeniably impressed by it.