Wednesday, 7 March 2012

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

2011. Dir: John Madden. Starring: Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Dev Patel, Tom Wilkinson and Maggie Smith. ●●●○○

I can highly recommend watching the trailer for John Madden's The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, it's a delightful piece of advertising with a distinctive palette, easily definable characters and the odd laugh out loud line delivery. Unfortunately I cannot recommend the movie as a whole which somehow drags that trailer over two hours without further developing the characters, providing tension or even giving the audience many more laughs.

In the pre-credits sequences we are introduced to the great and good of British acting talent through a series of short vignettes designed to develop an understanding of back-story and hint at the personalities. There's everything from Judi Dench as the resilient widow to Tom Wilkinson's down-to-earth judge stopping off at Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton as a bickering pair of retirees choosing how to spend their later years with reduced incomes. One by one they are seduced by the tempting offer of the best exotic marigold hotel, a palce converted into a residential home for senior citizens looking for adventure and not quite requiring care.

As our dysfunctional septet make their journey to Jaipur, mixing for the first time on the plane out you rather hope their stories will intertwine, however oddly right until the end it feels like separate tales. Even as one pair find a common cause whilst another share the beginnings of an illicit romance there's never a feeling of cohesion within the group. Each day the characters go off alone to face or hide away from the world, each night they return to the culinary challenges placed on them by the hotel's love starved owner Dev Patel.

This literary convention of presenting a collection of characters all of whom must have an arc in which to travel probably works very well in Deborah Moggach's novel but I find it irritating beyond belief. In two hours it's simply too much to ask from an audience to make them care about so many personalities, so their storylines either feel irrelevant or hopelessly shortened. It's not helped by most of cast who seem content to take the money and run. Judi Dench reprises her "As Time Goes By" performance only with less one liners, whilst Tom Wilkinson reveals a secret he's kept hidden, tearing away at his soul for over 30 years, with all the gravitas of someone admitting to eating marmite with a spoon.

Maggie Smith does the best she can with an underwritten role, effectively playing a threatened working class racist bigot at the beginning and a entrepreneur with purpose at the end; it's not her fault that the scene where she undergo's her transformation makes no sense. Does she really embrace Indian culture just because an untouchable lets her rant about her life in service? By the way how old is she?

Only Celia Imrie as a glamorous granny looking for husband number 4 and Dev's over the tops pride inject any life into the film, and the scene they share just past the halfway mark is a moment of delightful farce. And no, I'm not going to tell you what happens, other than it involves a chain of misunderstanding starting with the wrong people getting in bed together.

I suppose one of the reasons that scene shines is because there were laughs to be had that hadn't already been shown in the trailer. Make no mistakes this isn't a comedy, it's a series of life lessons with comedic elements, and I rather believe that amping up the comedy may have helped the film. There were moments in the trailer that made me chortle out loud, but stretched out across the running time it felt awfully thin, just the odd joke at the expense of the more extreme characters surrounded by the self-satisfied blog posts of Judi's silver surfer. When she tapped out "With so many old people together it was inevitable one of us would die..." I nearly screamed at the screen in disgust. The average age of the 7 actors is barely 65 and none of them - bar Maggie Smith and her plot developing broken hip - look remotely like age is slowing them down, even the character that does die simply slips away during an afternoon slumber once their storyline has been resolved. It's nothing like the pain and torment and inherent boredom most of us will experience in old age.

There's not even much given to the Indian actors either. Sure Patel along with his girlfriend and mother, played by Tena Desae and Lillete Dubey respectively, have a soap opera level storyline along the lines of following your heart over tradition and family expectations, but aside from them no other Indian gets a look in. There's even two moments when Dench and Wilkinson refer to long conversations they have had independently with a husband and wife whose connection to the group has rocked their relationship to it's core, yet all we hear is a precis from the mouths of our middle class heroes.

All this sounds like I'm ragging on the film, but to be honest I did like it when I was watching. It was nice, the location work was fabulous, as Wilkinson says in the trailer "[I see the] light, colours, smiles. All life is here.", and he's right India is stunning, if nothing else this is a brilliant tourist video for the sub-continent.

I can't say I recommend it. But if you're seeing it for free don't say no. And do try out the trailer.

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