Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Maggie Smith, Ronald Pickup, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Celia Imrie, Judi Dench, and Tom Wilkinson are all ready for a long nap.
**1/2 out of ****

A cast of great veterans of British stage and cinema, music by Thomas Newman, and an exotic setting wonderfully framed by cinematographer Ben Davis makes The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel cinematic comfort food. This film's spell was not-so-strong for me. It's a good choice for a family outing to the movies but I thought it was only momentarily challenging and sometimes too simple. 

This is an ensemble movie of interlinked characters who are experiencing the same setting in different ways. This group of retirees all have a different motivation and purpose for visiting the same incompetently-run hotel in Mumbai, India and they all seem to shift between comedy and drama as Judi Dench's emotional testimonials through her diary serves as the film's narration -which seems to be tying everything together. But does it? 

Roger Ebert points out how the ensemble is the ultimate strength of this film in his review.
"...believe me when I say that this movie finds rich opportunities for all of them (the cast). Director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) has to juggle to keep his subplots in the air, but these actors are so distinctive, they do much of the work for him."  
I absolutely agree with that statement. The ensemble in this film is very strong and live up to their reputation. I was even treated to the rare experience of watching Bill Nighy play someone who is charming rather than one of the bitter or antagonistic roles he's often typecast as. I also got to see Tom Wilkinson use his normal accent which is also seeming a bit rare these days. 

Wilkinson's story of a man who has returned to India to atone for an event in his youth, was the most interesting part of the movie. Maggie Smith's old bigot character, forced into a situation that allows her to relate to another culture was also well-played.

I think it was very difficult for me to watch a film about elderly English people coming to personal revelations amidst third-world surroundings. Topping the film off with a shallow love subplot between the Hotel owner (Dev Patel) and his forbidden girlfriend (Tena Dasae) didn't help either.

I recommend this film but I didn't feel as transported as others around me did in the theater. There is a lot to enjoy and characters to care about but it all felt so tainted by undesirable subplots and the illusion of culmination. 

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