Rooms Available 2012
Based on the novel by Deborah Moggach, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel tells the story of seven unhappy British pensioners who are either forced or compelled to relocate to a residential home in India. First we’re introduced to the recently widowed Evelyn [Dench] who has discovered that her late husband had been keeping massive debts from her and she has been forced to sell her house. Tom Wilkinson plays Graham, a high court official who, unbeknownst to his colleagues, grew up in India but was forced to leave when his homosexual interracial relationship was discovered. Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton play the only couple of the group, Douglas and Jean, who made a poor investment in their daughter’s fledgling internet company and have been forced to downsize their home. The roles of Madge and Norman are portrayed by Celia Imrie and Ronald Pickup but they’re pretty much the same character: lonely aging lover, looking for company. Finally, Muriel [Smith] is the only character who is actually forced to go to India. Desperate for a hip operation, Muriel is given two alternatives, either wait six months for an NHS operation or fly out to India for the procedure. The biggest downsize of this being that Muriel has incredibly racist tendencies and has no problem voicing them – what I like to call ‘old bastard racism’ which is just the same as regular racism but we’re supposed to tolerate it because “they’re from another generation”… sorry, pet peeve.
Upon arrival in India, we are introduced to Sonny [Patel], the youngest of three brothers, both of whom have had great success in life while Sonny is still holding on to his late father’s dream: the resurrection of the Marigold hotel. When the group arrive, they soon discover that the entire building is derelict and almost nothing works as it should. Despite all this, Sonny is both determined and optimistic that positive change is just around the corner. Each character displays a different attitude to their new surroundings, either utter immersion or complete disdain.
All-in-all, it’s not a bad release. The whole thing is pleasant escapism combining a mixture of typical scenarios involving Brits abroad and genuinely heartfelt analyses of OAP loving – couldn’t think of a better way to word that, sorry. Technically speaking the film is well executed, humming with energy and charm from the keen editing, to the steady pacing and the keen directorial control throughout. The cinematography is also impressively decent, avoiding the desire to paint England in a grey hue before upping the saturation to shout WE’VE FILMED THIS IN BLOODY INDIA! It may not sound much but a film like this needs a certain amount of subtlety to really work. A subtlety which is unfortunately absent from the phoned-in sitar driven score by Thomas Newman, which offers us nothing particularly unique or memorable. The real problems lie with the story and the fact that for an ensemble piece, there’s not nearly enough time to fully explore each character. Even now I cannot actually decide if I liked/enjoyed/agreed with the outcomes for each individual. Some felt rushed and far too neat to be plausible while others seem to go off on random tangents before arriving exactly where you expect.
For example, the story about Marge and Norman is a little tedious. Old horny people but they’ve still got ‘that spark’, that’s pretty much it from start to finish. Muriel being a crotchety old racist who ends up being humbled by the local’s life and finding a semblance of commonality with them was.. well, brilliantly acted but bloody obvious from the second the film started. Graham’s search for a long lost partner and the stark revelation of his true intentions in India were probably the most interesting and the most fucking irritating for being swept away so bloody quickly. Presented with an honest love story between two men without a wealth of campy nonsense was genuinely refreshing, only to have the rug pulled out from under you with a cheap “and then he died” moment. Finally, there’s the relationship between Douglas and Jean with the complication of Evelyn the trophy wife going off to sample an independent life. Seeing Nighy and Wilton together took me a little while to get over, namely for the fact they’ve played a married couple before (in Shawn Of The Dead). After the initial tittering I found myself disliking Jean for so many reasons. She’s a very negative, embittered, selfish, rude and untrusting person and whereas I usually relate to that kind of attitude, it was executed with such subtle malice that I couldn’t help but hate her; I realise this was the point of the role but it’s horribly unforgiving. Even that would have been fine if one of the reasons for her manner wasn’t that Douglas was making friends with Evelyn. Over the weeks Douglas begins listening to her, as it was clearly evident that no one had done so in a long time but Jean becomes thoroughly jealous. Eventually Douglas and Jean have a confrontation and you find yourself muttering, “Yeah! He can be friends with her if he likes, it’s not like there’s anything underhand about it” and then by the end of the film, there’s the implication that there probably was something underhand about it! Which ruined it for me! Why couldn’t they just remain friends, why did there have to be anything closer. As the notion of friendship is so unsatisfying for audience closure that we insist on people either in a relationship or dead?
As previously stated, this film is pretty much paint-by-numbers, offering you an escapist look at the amusing trials of a group of elderly people convinced that it’s too late for anything new. The performances alone are worth watching but don’t expect anything other than a little bit of charm and fun.
24th February 2012
The Scene To Look Out For:
I’m afraid my highlighted scene is actually for the wrong reasons. At the start of the film Muriel is spouting all kinds of racist nonsense (“all brown skins and black hearts”) but still rather mild compared to some of the shit people actually come out with. The reason it bugged me wasn’t the character or what she was saying but the audience reaction. Rather than being shocked and whispering, “You can’t say that” there were murmurs of agreement and chuckling. And I bet not one of those bastards understood what the film actually meant. I’ll admit that some of what Muriel came out with was funny because it was shocking but to nod along and think, “Yep, hit the nail on the head there” annoys the hell out of me.
Bold choice for Maggie Smith and a commendable role for Wilkinson but these are too easy to highlight. Acting alongside such keen British talent is never easy but Dev Patel does a good job, even if you want to get back to the various tribulations of the aged, you can’t help but admire Sonny’s determination to succeed in reviving the hotel, winning his girlfriend’s heart and appeasing his family.
“We have a saying here in India: it will be alright in the end. If it is not alright, then it is not the end”
In A Few Words:
“Mediocre story with predictable results made all the more entertaining by the acting talent”