Movie Review - The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Judi Dench (left) goes to India in
"The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel"
It's award season and movie titles are being named that will be in contention for the mighty Award Awards. There have been some sure-fire names. There have also been some surprises named that may not get the Oscar nomination but still need to be considered. This movie is one such consideration.

The Broadcast Film Critics Association gave The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel a Best Acting Ensemble nomination. The NAACP Image Awards nominated it for Outstanding Writing. It got two nods from the Golden Globes, including Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy and Best Performance by a Actress for Judi Dench. It also got two nods from the Screen Actors Guild, including Outstanding Performance by a Cast and Outstanding Performance by a Female in a Supporting Role for Maggie Smith.

All those American award shows won't announce the winners until January. The British Independent Film Awards has already come and gone. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was nominated for five trophies. It lost every, single one, and after watching this film, I see why. I get the sense that it will probably lose all of its American accolades, but the reason it's getting accolades at all is because of the numbers.

The reported budget is $10 million. The U.S. box office is $46 million, which makes it a certified hit. Its total box office, if you add U.S. receipts and the international receipts, was $134 million, which is pretty incredible, and a lot of those receipts come from an older audience, which made movies like The King's Speech a hit. It proves that there is a market for older film audiences. Being that the Oscar voters and the voters for award shows that aren't on MTV are older as well, this movie's various nominations aren't surprising.

I liked The King's Speech and I like movies with older actors, and in general love most of the British actors in it, but to me this film is predictable and boring. It has some interesting things in the beginning but boy does it drag after that. Ol Parker adapted the screenplay from the novel "These Foolish Things" by Deborah Moggach and Parker pulls only the lamest ideas and themes, nothing innovative or bold, which might not have been the point, but it doesn't make for a great film.

The cast features eight actors. Only two are actually interesting. All the rest feel like pad. Judi Dench (Casino Royale and Shakespeare in Love) plays Evelyn, pronounced EE-va-lin, a widower that has to sell her flat because since her husband died and managed their finances so poorly, she can't afford to stay there. Dench is delightful and grounding as usual.

Tom Wilkinson (In the Bedroom and Michael Clayton) plays Graham, a gay professor who is on the verge of retirement but decides not to wait after attending a colleague's retirement party. Bill Nighy (Love Actually and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest) plays Douglas, a former civil servant who can't afford good housing for him and his wife. Maggie Smith (Sister Act and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone) plays Muriel, a hospital patient who is clearly racist. Two other, older actors are involved in the plot, but they ultimately don't matter.

Seven of these older people decide to go to India for their retirement and stay at what's called The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It looks great in the brochure, but in actuality it's a decrepit and rundown place. Probably, in many ways, analogous or a metaphor for the seven old people who come there. Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire and The Last Airbender) plays Sonny, the son of the owner of the hotel who now runs the establishment with unwavering optimism and youthful exuberance, which obviously contrasts with the pessism and cynicism of the seven, old people.

There are some jokes initially that play off that contrast. There are also some culture clash jokes, which are hackneyed, especially when in the context of Smith's racist character. Muriel's racism is almost offensive, but it's played in an Archie Bunker way that you can almost forgive it. It also has such a predictable arc that you know how it's going to end, so none of it has any real punch.

Patel is a good actor, I think, but in this film he's essentially playing the same love-sick puppy that he played in Slumdog Millionaire. I wish that instead of focusing on that character's romance, the screenwriter should have ditched it or changed it in a way that could have condensed and bridged things significantly.

Wilkinson's character of Graham comes to India because he grew up there and as a young man had a relationship with a young Indian named Manoj. Graham returns to find Manoj because he wants to learn what's become of him, but this whole relationship is given such short shrift in lieu of chasing after Patel's character.

The screenwriter should have pursued the Graham and Manoj relationship, not simply because it was a gay relationship but because it would have engaged the characters in the culture and dealt with the culture clash better than scenes of the old people eating Indian food and then having to run to the bathroom. If Manoj had worked at the hotel or been related to Patel's character, then that would have added a layer of interest that would have done wonders.

The screenwriter could have done more with Dench's character as well. Her character of Evelyn goes to India and claims to be a blogger. This is after an opening scene that has her confused about what Wi-Fi is. But, besides her saying she's going to be a blogger at the airport, nothing more is done about it, which is kind of a waste. Maggie Smith's character gets a joke about computers, which should have gone to Dench, but maybe it's a joke that comes from the book and couldn't be changed. Either way, it was lacking for me.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for sexual content and language.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 3 mins.


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