The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
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The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012)

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When I was growing up there used to be these infomercials for various musical collections based on a theme or specific style.  They probably still exist, but since I’ve excised myself from cable television to subsist entirely on per episode purchases and Netflix these over-emotional music compilations have found a way into my memory.  The one most relevant to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is the New Age music compilation “Pure Moods.”

About fifteen to twenty years ago we hit a period of music where adult, easy-listening music no longer meant Hall and Oates but Gregorian monks chanting along to a bell choir while African drums rattled lightly in the background and a set of strings kept the whole thing grounded.  The characters of Marigold, if we take their fictional age versus performer age to be truth, would have been hitting middle-age just as this compilation became a staple amongst people who want to seem cultured.  Despite the reasons each of the hotel patrons give for traveling to their Indian getaway, they all seem drawn from the same pool of middle-aged desperation that usual boils to a crisis.  Here they just stalled the delivery and waited until they were much older to question the meaning of it all as softly and politely as possible, like any good Enigma song.

A huge, talented, cast all smiling very politely for about two hours.

Marigold doesn’t hit you over the head with this but the implication of meaningless wandering after a life of doing who knows what is immediately clear.  Each character, introduced in a digital font that is the first and only connection to the technological world they’re leaving, is working through some kind of middle-aged crisis fifteen years later.  Evelyn (Judi Dench) just lost her husband after years of doting on him, Douglas and Jean (Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton) are afraid of a mediocre future together, Graham (Tom Wilkinson) is suddenly retired, and Muriel (Maggie Smith) is an out-of-touch racist who needs a new hip.  In an attempt at reinvigorating each of their lives they decide to take a trip to India at the majestically advertised Exotic Marigold Hotel run by the painfully enthusiastic Sonny (Dev Patel).

That sums up the trials and tribulations of Marigold.  There’s the standard amusing period while they all get used to spicy food and the inevitable montages as they tour around the city in search for the unknown something.  Marigold plays much more like a tourist reel than a narrative for a long time, and that’s really not too bad, just dull.  The film was shot on-location and benefits dusty streets and hastily moved buildings, the bright textiles and crowded markets.  Whatever travel money was used is well-spent navigating all of these gorgeous surroundings.

But the surroundings and slowly, by extension, the characters become nothing more than a series of eureka life moments brought on a little too late.  It’s all handled quite pleasantly but that’s part of the problem.  These supposedly life-altering events, no matter how late, are smoothed out so easily there’s hardly any tension to speak of.  Yes, it’s all handled with skill, but after the fifth reconciliation ending in a smile and dull background music that has just enough local spice to sound Indian, I was ready to take a nap.

Tom Wilkinson shines brightest.

The cast is very game for the movie but don’t do much aside be pleasant.  As nice as it is to see Judi Dench in something other than a period piece she carries none of her signature strength or wit here.  The relationship between Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton is much more satisfying because it’s more confusing.  She plays someone never satisfied with the world and that seems to extend to her husband, a man so cheerful about being put-upon that when he finally speaks up in the end it’s one of the only moments of genuine heartache.  Dev Patel is a perfectly functional comic lead, but the real energy comes from Tom Wilkinson.

I’ve been a fan of his for years, and he manages to bring great depth into unexpected areas of the movie.  There is one plot twist involving his character that would have been disastrously hilarious in a lesser actors hands but Wilkinson plays the moment and all leading up to it deftly.  He plays Graham like a friendly man lost in his home town, sometimes nervously glancing at now unfamiliar streets, but retaining his kindness.  It’s a beautifully warm performance in a film that’s content with mere satisfaction.

That eagerness to please is the one that ultimately bumps Marigold down for me.  I kept thinking of more interesting directions the film could take - analyzing the relationship between the Brits and Indians in modern times, or the position of the ignored elderly in society.  But not all films have to cater to my theoretic whims and Marigold will be a perfectly pleasant diversion for someone looking to smile this weekend.  I did, I just won’t remember much about the film next week.

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The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012)

Directed by John Madden.
Screenplay by Ol Parker.
Starring Tom Wilkinson, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, and many others.

Posted by Andrew

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  1. Good review Andrew. This one didn’t do much for me but it’s definitely for an older-crowd out there. A bit too manipulative for my liking, though.

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