Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Still some soul left in these old shoes

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: directed by John Madden; written by Ol Parker
Someone, I can’t remember who, quipped – because of their simultaneous US release dates – that The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was the elderly version of The Avengers. It was, I suspect, simply a throwaway comparison, but I find it to be somewhat apt. For, very much like a hodgepodge of superheroes teaming up for shenanigans, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is about a hodgepodge of distinguished, older, British actors teaming up for some frolicking. And, in that way, it’s vaguely – but just – the slightest bit inane to review it, but on I go.
I worry, somewhat, about John Madden’s ability as a director. Of course, the strength of Shakespeare in Love – his finest film, obviously – lies most in the screenplays, Madden’s flair for lush visuals was a significant asset to the film. Hitherto, though, since Shakespeare in Love, his films have been marked by a potent blandness which contradict his directorial abilities. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is an improvement, and then it again it is not. The opening credits which occur some ten minutes into the film make use of a lovely bit of photography from cinematographer Ben Davis. It’s a nice gateway to the world of the film, because the actual credits of the film are the ad for the actual Marigold Hotel, which we will come to realise is something of a fake. But, our team isn’t aware of this yet. All of them, running from something – loneliness, sadness, money problems – are intrigued by the hotel’s “outsourced retirement” and make their way to India for an easy retirement, but not so fast – of course, because the hotel is not as lush as its advert implies and there are personal traumas to exorcise (albeit, in a sweet fashion) before everything reaches completion.

I made the comparison to The Avengers in my opening paragraph because like those typically big-name driven ensembles The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel brings all the caveats and merits of its genre to the table here. Caveat #1: The first thing you learn about the seven seniors are all you need to know about them , with the possible exception of Graham, reinforcing the feeling that the film is less about the desire to tell a story about seven people and more a chance to allow these proficient performers luxuriate in sweet easiness. Of course, Merit #1 counters this because it works, Wilkinson is MVP, but the entire seven playing their archetypes make it work. Each time you think Maggie Smith’s shtick with get old, she surprises you with different ways to play it, Dench reminds you just how warm a screen-presence she has and Nighy and company are joyously affable. Were the film content to just allow the seven to traverse the terrain and interact with each other it’d have made for a less undulating, but ultimately more satisfying film. Alas, no…

Young Sonny is the stand-in proprietor of the – in reality – dilapidating hotel struggling with issues of a helicopter mother, young love and a desire to “live his own” life. It’s an altogether too pat arc in a film that’s otherwise comfortable in its easiness and it’s a shame that the will it / won’t it attribute of the hotel’s success becomes the arc on which the climax of the film is built leading to a final dénouement that’s much too treacly to be truly entertaining. It’s easy to see how the entire Sonny arc exists both as an entry point for the random viewer, an opportunity to show how familial issues transcend culture (and prevent the film from seeming too “old”). However, a more stalwart dollop of faith in its conceits is something The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel could do with a bit more of – because with a robust slew of talented older performers, who needs an entry point?

Ultimately, what remains, is a sweet if somewhat overlong peaceable frolic. And, there are significant things to learn from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. 1) Just as a mundane “romance” can be elevated by a group of young stars, so can it be enhanced by a group of older ones. 2) There are moments where Madden still has the ability to evoke lush beauty with his camera (even if a number of them are in montage). 3) Tom Wilkinson remains a fantastic performer. 4) The shrewish wife, no matter how much the performer tries (Penelope Wilton, your attempts were excellent) is an exasperating archetype that needs to be re-addressed. There are, I suspect, much more lovelies to discern but it’s not so much about the thinking as it is about the feeling. And but for some nuisances The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel feels….nice….

This Is Nice, Isn’t It? / B-


Runs Like A Gay said...

It's a great advert for Mumbai, and I really want to go now I've seen this, but as a film pretty rubbish.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

ben i don't quite say rubbish, but i get your point completely.