A movie like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel makes you think you’re going to love what you see. Based on the Deborah Moggach’s novel These Foolish Things, which humorously examines the alienation and loneliness of retirement, and rejuvenation in a different setting; John Madden (Shakespeare in Love, Mrs Brown) directs with nostalgia like the book was Moggach’s memoirs (Eat Pray Love, get it?). Maybe Madden, an Oscar-nominated director, felt that combing his skills with the strengths of England’s finest screen veterans would hide the mediocrity of the screenplay by Ol Parker, who comes from TV movie background.
A group of British retirees have outsourced their retirement, drawn by the less attractive and seemingly exotic India. They are the stubborn and prejudiced Muriel (Maggie Smith) who needs a hip replacement; mismatched married couple Douglas (Bill Nighy) and Jean (Penelope Wilton); recent widow Evelyn (Jude Dench); Graham (Tom Wilkinson) who grew up in India who has past issues to deal with; good-time girl Madge (Celia Imrie) who’s looking for a rich husband; and Norman (Ronald Pickup), a ladies’ man who is actually just looking for romance. The oldies book-in at the newly restored Marigold Hotel in Jaipur, which turns out to be less luxurious than the advertisements made it out to be, but they are forever transformed by their experiences. Friendships develop, romance blossoms, and when one life draws to an end, everyone’s guilt and regrets are confronted.
Parker’s screenplay goes for the obvious in a sense of these actors who have worked together for many years (and perhaps at one point in the 60’s slept together). They obviously had a great time making this movie and it shows. However, the film’s pacing never gives the feeling that the characters themselves have known each other well or long enough to become this intimate. Everyone is paired up with each other at different times throughout the film, and because there are so many icons, you’re amazed at which relationships go further and which ones don’t. The repertoire vets do a fine job trying to flesh out their caricature roles, but young Dev Patel’s (of Slumdog-fame), subplot as the young, broke, hotel owner is so crammed in after a cartoonish introduction.
It’s merely a cosy reminder of how much we like these actors, who do deliver some funny dialogue that won’t just have the oldest crowd in the cinema laughing.
Maggie Smith is superb as the fussy racist who says, “if I can’t pronounce it, I don’t want to eat it”. Too bad she has the least amount screen time of everyone. There are some enjoyable moments involving Tom Wilkinson playing cricket on the road with a group of Indian boys and Celia Imrie posing as a member of the royal family to the receptionist at an Indian restaurant to meet wealthy men. The locations are beautifully captured by Ben Davis’ photography.
I was reminded of Love Actually during the screening, which is only going to pale this movie by comparison. The plot imperfections do stand out and its approach on death and living life while you still have it feels subtle. It does get distracting but if you do love this cast, you might be forgiving for its crimes.