Widgets Magazine

Reviews: ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’

Courtesy of Fox Searchlight

While I hate to paraphrase Dame Judi Dench at the end of “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” her character notes in her “e-lec-tronic” blog that sometimes success is measured by how you cope with failure. Following her mantra, the audience will surely have to test themselves and succeed admirably.

 

As “The Avengers” swept through box offices, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” was served up as the perfect counterprogramming. Instead of a wide, sprawling team of brawny men in shiny spandex suits exploding space monsters, the AARP card-carrying crowd could turn out to see a wide, sprawling team of British acting royalty in dowdy clothes flounce around India. As any new convert to the BBC’s incomparable “Downton Abbey” will tell you, a little Maggie Smith goes a long way, and excitement for this independent British travelogue was at a fever pitch.

 

Courtesy of Fox Searchlight

The trailers delineated the flimsy concept pretty well. Seven geriatric Brits, for their own personal and tragic reasons, decide to retire at a hotel in exotic India for “the elderly and beautiful,” run by an over-eager Indian native (Dev Patel of “Slumdog Millionaire”). Dame Judi Dench (“Casino Royale”) plays Evelyn, a widow looking for a change; Tom Wilkinson’s (“Michael Clayton”) character Graham is returning to India to look for a long lost friend; Bill Nighy (“Love Actually”) and Penelope Wilton (“Downton Abbey”) portray the Ainslie couple, constantly dealing with their relationship problems; and the exquisite Maggie Smith (“Harry Potter”) is Muriel, a single woman who is forced to go to India for urgent surgery. With another pair of sexually charged geriatrics who provide for comic relief, they all bravely leave for India.

 

Before they depart, the band of Brits make several comments about how worried they are about interacting with the Indians, eating curry and living in a third world country. These come off as insensitive at times, but as these stories tend to go, surely they will all learn a lot about the culture while learning something about themselves. This seems to be reinforced when they get to the titular Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and it is not as advertised. They are the only guests, but their overeager host certainly comforts them.

 

Unfortunately, what ensues is not the delightful clash of cultures that one expects. Instead, the elderly Brits stick mostly to themselves, have relationship issues and struggle with their issues amongst themselves. They do interact with the locals to some extent, and the hotel owner has some issues with an arranged marriage, but the script seems like it would have been groundbreaking in 1982. For instance, Muriel shows momentary kindness to her maid. We then learn that the maid is an untouchable in the Indian caste system, and this brief acknowledgment is the most meaningful moment of her life. This inaccurate and pedantic showing of the treatment of cultures just feels perfunctory at best and exploitative at worst throughout the entire film.

 

Courtesy of Fox Searchlight

This inconsiderate treatment of cultures doesn’t really affect the movie though, as director John Madden (“Shakespeare in Love”) mostly chooses to ignore India and the culture around them. It never creates a new vision, resting comfortably with its dry British wit and the subtleties of any repressed drama. For a decent British independent comedy, it is definitely possible to find worse, though. The film wildly succeeds as an antidote to “The Avengers,” and this is all it needs to do.