Bottom Line: There’s not much great or exotic about The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
Directed by: John Madden
Starring: Bill Nighy, Celia Imrie, Dev Patel, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton, Ronald Pickup
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel opens up with the clarification of one goal. The film wishes not to inspire; it desires not to change the world or alter Hollywood’s own standards. It just wants to entertain. This is certain in its premise, which acts vis-à-vis every film of its ilk from Harold and Maude (1971) up through The Bucket List (2008). Why yes, this is a comedy about a group of senior citizens who escape life as they know it and rejuvenate themselves. Put aside this formula and it’s quite an amusing indie comedy for almost any age. For an over-50 audience, it’s likely to ring with some authenticity. For a 50-and-younger audience, it’s Little Miss Sunshine “lite” with several Alan Arkins.
Soony Kapoor runs the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, supposedly the finest in India, under a classy, optimistic slogan: “Everything will be all right in the end. And if it’s not all right, then trust me. It is not yet the end.” He maintains this hope, despite the fact that he has yet to enjoy a single customer. Along comes a group of English senior citizens to his hotel. Much humor is made from their failure to access with technology, obsessive-compulsive behavior as far as decorum, overwhelming and excessive fastidiousness, and impulses to be just a little bit racist. While this is happening, Soony makes attempts to satisfy them and treat them to a pleasing vacation in his increasingly problematic hotel.
One of the weakest points in the film is the script, written by Ol Parker as an adaptation of the novel These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach. For well over half over the film, the script is a well-written delight, with memorable lines to support its characters. The film is established as a caricature from the very start, so it’s quite easy to have fun with rather over-the-top moments. It’s only in the last thirty or forty minutes that the story grows tedious, the jokes grow redundant, and the script begins meandering around its newly reached predictable territory. The focus on less significant roles (i.e. a side story) would be acceptable, had this not resided as a last-minute generator for a conclusion. Even the conclusion itself is a standard “feel-good” resolution.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel isn’t a memorable film, but due to its cast, it’s not entirely forgettable. Oscar winners Judi Dench and Maggie Smith–whom a younger audience may recognize as M from Casino Royale and Professor McGonagall from Harry Potter, respectively–are a delight to watch assessing their own generation. Dench narrates the film like a journal, taking notes on her observations and thoughts as she did in Notes on a Scandal; whereas Smith is pitch-perfect as a cantankerous, elderly English matron, the kind who would give orders in the home of the Dalai Lama for hours on end, despite her own wheelchair confinement. Another deserving mention is Dev Patel. You may remember him as Jamal Malik, the titular hero in 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire. Although Patel’s role in Marigold is much different than the one he delivered in Slumdog, it’s still another foretelling of his outstanding success that is to come. But if I may quote his character: “Everything will be all right in the end. And if it’s not all right, then trust me. It is not yet the end.” No, it most certainly is not the end for a standard “feel-good” dramedy like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.