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Saturday
May122012

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (For the Elderly and Beautiful)

This review was originally published in my column at Towleroad

Outsource your elders. Ship them off to India!

Though some media pundits scoffed last weekend when The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel opened for business the same weekend as The Avengers (previously reviewed) it turned out to be a savvy move. Where else were the spandex averse or Downton Abbey addicts to go? (Rather perversely, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel denies Abbey addicts additional showdowns between Lady Crawley and the Dowager Countess; Penelope Wilton and Maggie Smith's stories don't intertwine much) In fact, this British retirees in India dramedy should have opened even wider since they had the nation's second best per screen average and could have cracked the top ten with far fewer theaters than the other movies.

But enough about money. Hotel manager Sonny Kapoor (Slumdog Millionaire's Dev Patel) is a dreamer, not a businessman. His family is losing patience with his dream and time is running out for the hotel. It's running out for the guests, too, as they near the end of their lives. The name of Sonny's establishment is actually “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for Elderly and Beautiful People”. The movie's title lops off those last five words which only proves Sonny's business model's point: he believes that most countries don't care about their elderly so he'll outsource old age. Come to India and live out your autumn years. [More after the jump]

Dev Patel, drinking the hotel's entire coffee budget before each take.

The film begins by introducing us to each of its character in mini-chapter form. In quick succession we meet seven Brits with one "issue" a piece beyond the financial problems driving them to a foreign country: Evelyn (Oscar winner Dame Judi Dench)  has lost her husband and realizes she's never worked in her life; Douglas (Bill Nighy from Notes on a Scandal) and Jean (Penelope Wilton from Downton Abbey) have an obviously unhappy marriage -- he's chill, she's uptight; Norman the womanizer (the aptly named Ronald Pickup) is quite lonely; Madge (Celia Imrie) who is also lonely and wants to marry a rich man; Muriel (Oscar winner Dame Maggie Smith) is racist and feels useless;  and Graham (Oscar nominee Tom Wilkinson) retires suddenly. Graham's "issue" the movie withholds for awhile but something is drawing him to India.

So off they go to "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" which is not at all what they were expecting. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, on the other hand, is exactly the kind of movie you expect. It's not that there are no surprises in its juggling of seven to ten separate story threads but that it always moves in the same direction for each of them. The screenplay gives you two handfuls of neatly packaged problems and it keeps telling you, through Sonny's favorite saying, that it will resolve them all.

Everything will be all right in the end. So if it's not all right, it's not the end."

In one recurring gag Muriel is terrified to eat anyting in India "If I can't pronounce it I don't want to eat it" but she should rest assured that the only thing this movie is serving is comfort food.  

omg that looks so comfortable to me. I want to be driven everywhere like this.This is not to say that there is no depth or pleasure. The actors are strong enough to elevate the light material and some of the performance notes sting when they should (Maggieto the rescue!) . One of the storylines in particular will interest gay audiences and there are solid warm laughs sprinkled in. Dench, who is the central focus despite the ensemble structure, does her best work since Notes on a Scandal... (though she's nowhere near that brilliant). But unfortunately the movie isn't quite strong enough to sustain it's two hour plus running time as it moves through its problem resolving final act, checking off its story boxes one-by-one.

I went, as I imagine many people will, for some Quality Dame Time and I got it so I shouldn't complain. But my mind was truly wandering. It wasn't just Downton Abbey Season 3 anxiety distracting me in that final third. Hey, that's Notes on a Scandal's Barbara Covett giggling and glowing when paired off with her beloved Sheba's husband!? That is so wrong. Hey, why didn't they reunite both Slumdog stars for Sonny's B plot romance?  As everything became all right in the end, I'd long since checked out of the Marigold Hotel and had created an elaborate television fantasy instead wherein Dames and BFFs Judi & Maggie had their own daily reality show where they gossiped about Hollywood, James Bond, Harry Potter and the West End over tea. Judi uses sweetener but Maggie likes hers bitter.

Wouldn't you DVR the hell out of that?

"There's an indian in there!"

Grade: B/B-
Oscar Chances: If the movie is a sleeper hit with long legs through the summer, Maggie Smith could win traction or bolster her later release Quartet: she gets the movies best laughs and nearly the best tearjerk moment.

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Reader Comments (15)

Ah ah I left the theatre after watching this with the same opinion as yours: the Dames should have a daily talk show where they'd discuss everything with that sardonic wit and sophisticated bitchery we've come to expect from a Maggie Smith performance.

Also: Tom Wilkinson's storyline was not at all what I was expecting. Caught me off guard, that one.

All in all, it's a nice, fluffy movie, a solid picture (with a terrific cast) to make your mind forget all the troubles of life for two hours, nothing special about it. And those old folks sure seemed to have had a lot of fun.

May 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJorge Rodrigues

Holy crap-greatest idea for a reality tv show ever. Throw in Joan Plowright, Miriam Margoyles, and Eileen Atkins to go with Dench and Smith, and you could have Real Housewives of the Royal Shakespeare Company!!!

May 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJohn T

At the end of the movie when Maggie Smith turns to Judi Dench and said something like "We haven't really talked much, have we?" My friend and I turned to each other and said NO! All I wanted was 2 hours of the Dames chit chatting and there was woefully little.

May 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrady

I'm watching this today. I can't wait for Dame Maggie and Dame Judi. :)

May 13, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdinasztie

I don't know, i thoroughly devour anything that they appear in as they're aging and we're so blessed that they're both (Maggie/Judi) working their asses off to keep us going. Even then, I find myself watching maggie on youtube in downtime.

The only thing was Maggie's accent, I had to keep pinching myself because it was so common, rather than what we've been used to,

Still, thank you for the opportunity to discuss this and thank you Dames for giving it your all and keeping me happy :D

May 13, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermorganisaqt

Like a true Brit I saw this on opening weekend and whilst I sort of liked it at the time ever since my opinion of the film has been falling as I talk to more people about it.

Patronising, middle-class and desperate to be funnier than it actually is, with huge character inconsistencies. Did Maggie Smith really get over her racism by talking about her life in service (and when was that anyway, the 30's)? What has Tom Wilkinson's home life been like for the last 40 years? It seems no one cares if he's been single for all that time or not..

Finally the most awful moment comes after the funeral when Judi Dench says she spent hours talking to the wife and now she really understands... But clearly her words don't deserve any space in the movie, even as she says them or as an explanation.

Saying that Celia Imrie is excellent value, especially in her bedroom scene with Dev Patel. Comedy gold.

May 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBJT

"As everything became all right in the end, I'd long since checked out of the Marigold Hotel and had created an elaborate television fantasy instead wherein Dames Judi & Maggie had their own daily reality show where they gossiped about Hollywood, James Bond, and the West End over tea. Judi uses sweetener but Maggie likes hers bitter."
LAUGHING OUT LOUD... you're such a genius!!!!! :-)
PS: I totally agree about the movie

May 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStefano

This was out here a couple of months back and looks atrocious. Maybe I'll take a look on DVD... maybe...

May 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

I saw it by the end of March and it's already kind of blurry... Hated Patel, loved Judi and Maggie as I expected, rediscovered Penelope Wilton and Tom Wilkinson's monologue reminded me he's a fantastic actor.

SPOILER I hated how they handled Wilkinson's storyline. I'm really yearning for the movie when being gay, happy and alive comes all at once.

May 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I really wish they would make more films starring great performers over 60's, 70's and 80's+. Those great actors deserves to play rich roles and complex characters and not just play someone's grandmother on the background if they lucky.

May 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

It seems like you came reeeeeeeeally close to wishing Freida Pinto had been cast in an additional movie. Are you okay? Please to respond.

May 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

Nick -- HA! Only after I'd hit publish did I regain my sanity.

But I assure you it was only because I like the symmetry of "everything comes in threes... I needed one more reunion beyond Notes on a Scandal and Downton Abbey.

May 13, 2012 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

"Real Housewives of the Royal Shakespeare Company"

HAHAHAHAHA, OMG I despise those Real Housewives shows, but I would totally, unashamedly watch the ever-lovin' shit out of that show!

May 14, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

Actually, as I watched the movie I thought it would make a better TV show as-is than a movie. So I think of this movie as a two hour tv show premiere and it works pretty well. India is exotic enough to keep things interesting and it would always challenge people to explore their inner lives.

I thought the movie as-is was a mile wide and an inch deep, so a TV series could really do justice to these characters. Calling HBO or BBC!

I'd love to watch this movie soon. Especially when Maggie Smith and Dev Patel is in the house!

May 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJerusalem Hotel
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