The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel Review

(2.5 STARS)

This is the true story of seven people, who choose to live in a foreign land, retire together, and have their lives taped to find out what happens when India stops being polite and starts getting real.

OK, it’s not a true story, but the rest is accurate. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is like a condensed season of The Real World in India and with septogenarians. Yes, there are fewer drunken fights and threesomes than in MTV’s flagship reality show, but you’ll recognize immediately the character types and the arcs they’ll follow.

There’s the one who just got out of a relationship and is trying to find herself (Judi Dench’s Evelyn), the one who’s keeping a secret (Tom Wilkinson’s Graham), the bickering couple (Bill Nighy’s Douglas and Penelope Wilton’s Jean), the randy one (Ronald Pickup’s Norman), and the gold digger (Celia Imrie’s Madge). The only character who goes against type, at least somewhat, is Maggie Smith’s Muriel. Yes, most seasons of The Real World feature a bigot like Muriel, but rarely are they in wheelchairs awaiting a hip transplant.

These people all venture to the city of Jaipur on the promise that a luxurious palace with stunning views and world-class accommodations was awaiting them. Instead, they’re met by Dev Patel’s Sonny, a rundown place, and rooms without doors. But what awaits them outside the walls of the hotel are sights and sounds that will change their lives, even at their ages. Except for Jean, who’s appalled by the country’s squalor. And Muriel, who refuses to accept that Indians are worthy of her company. And Norman and Madge, who are more concerned with finding love than enjoying the city. And Graham, who’s still searching for the answer to a lifelong mystery. And Douglas, who’s marriage is crumbling as his wife gets crankier and crankier about their new living situation. Only Evelyn, it seems, fully appreciates Jaipur, the hotel, and the new perspective she’s gained as a result of the move. Figuring out how to navigate the drama that is her group of new friends, however, is a different story.

Yes, these people all carry baggage, and over the course of the film, you’ll see them accept and reject certain truths about old age and companionship. The problem isn’t that the material is familiar; Instead, it lies in the execution. Plot points are dropped and picked up again as the screenplay needs them. It’s as if director John Madden had some kind of universal remote which allowed him to pause these people’s lives until they became important parts of the story once again. Time passes for all seven people, as well as Sonny, who has his own arc involving his meddling mother and non-conformist girlfriend, but most of the storylines play out in a very herky-jerky manner.

At least the film is funny. It’s uncomfortable to watch Maggie Smith be such an awful racist at first, but she grows on you quickly, as she begins to grow a heart. Folks like Judi Dench and Billy Nighy are, unsurprisingly, a delight. The show is stolen, however, by two of the film’s lesser known actors. Ronald Pickup and Celia Imrie’s separate searches for a sexual partner are often quite uproarious, despite being the primary source of the aforementioned pacing problems.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is also a visual delight. There’s nothing groundbreaking about the cinematography (headed by Ben Davis) like there was in, say, Slumdog Millionaire, but India is much more picturesque here than it was in Danny Boyle’s film. It’s all befitting of the film’s demographic, which isn’t one likely to find itself entranced by a hard-hitting look at the streets of Jaipur. Instead, we get bright colors and kids playing cricket, which, given one’s mood, is a pleasant change of pace.

“Pleasant” is pretty much The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in a nutshell. Those looking for a familiar, two-hour diversion could do a lot worse. But Madden’s difficulty providing straight-forward and satisfying conclusions to the film’s many disparate parts—as well as the material’s inherent safeness—drags it down in the end. It’s a tough thing to pull off an ensemble piece like this and give every character his or her due. Madden tries and fails, but it’s an entertaining failure, nonetheless.

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