Old people at a retirement home in India is not exactly what I would call the greatest concept. These types of films are usually not my fancy, but a stellar cast is always a great way to bait someone such as myself. And bait it does very well.
John Madden (not that one) gained worldwide acclaim for the overrated Shakespeare in Love which won Best Picture, Actress (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Supporting Actress (Dame Judi Dench). Since then he’s fallen into a bit obscurity while having a few showings that were at times worth your attention - The Debt from 2011 showcased Helen Mirren and Jessica Chastain in a spy thriller spanning decades. It was solid, but Marigold is a different direction for Madden.
He’s still incorporating veteran actors to move along the script he selects. Here, an ensemble cast of Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, and the always excellent Tom Wilkinson, spend their final months or years at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in India. Each is brought to this world by different reasons. Dench is a recent widow, with little money, and little motivation to get through the rest of her life. Smith’s hip surgery has been outsourced to India to save on cost and expedite the process. Nighy and his wife (played by the same woman who was his wife in Shaun of the Dead - Penelope Wilton) have recently gone bankrupt after investing their retirement in their daughters Internet company. Wilkinson is fed up with life and just up and leaves one day.
It’s a collection of people who are ultimately tired of whatever life they were living before. Even if their paths brought them to the hotel not by choice but by necessity, it’s still a group seeking change even if it’s in the smallest form. Some of them, like Smith’s hardened Muriel Donnelly, have just come to this realization that they are not as grand as they used to be. It’s an issue we’ll all face at some point, the cold hard truth of getting old. Born and dying in diapers. Ol Parker’s screenplay does it’s best job at showing these characters at their most desperate of times.
Hotel isn’t so much about accepting that you’re growing old, it’s learning to appreciate it and view it positively. As we grow older we face new challenges, some seem more impossible than others. For this group of folks, they each face something common, which is where the downfall of Hotel rears its ugly head. With the exception of Wilkinson’s trials, a majority of the characters face typical problems that are either not specific to growing old, or if they are, they are fairly cliched. All Hotel manages to do is compile all of these hurdles into one movie, allocating roughly 30 minutes apiece to each one.
The growing old theme is paralleled with Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionairede experiencing his first true love. Forgive me for sounding like a broken record, but after Slumdog I just can’t believe this guy loves anyone else. His performance in Slumdog was very powerful and the romantic scenes he shared with Frieda Pinto were iconic and memorable. Here, despite his best efforts, it seems we’ve already heard this story of forbidden love. And while his love interest here is just as gorgeous as Pinto, I honestly can’t seem with anyone but Pinto. Perhaps it’s a fault of my own, but there’s nothing as extreme as Slumdog’s flame going on here for Patel. The main conflict is between him and his mother agreeing on the status of the hotel and whether or not this woman he’s infatuated with is really that great. Patel has his moments of Slumdog like intensity, but they are wasted on his typical subplot.
What does save Hotel from being one of those typical “coming of age” films, is the solid performances from Judi Dench and Tom Wilkinson. Dench is in a new territory here. We’ve seen her as M from the 90s/00’s James Bond films. We’ve even seen her as the despicable lesbian in the highly underrated Notes on a Scandal. But here, we get Dench as a completely vulnerable housewife, who has never had a job in her life. She’s never done anything on her own. Her story is something often replicated in Hollywood, in Oscar baiting dramedies. But it’s made exceptional here because of Dench stepping out of the power chair and into a more subdued, reluctant, but still eager role. She’s not intimidating in the least, and highly believable despite what we already know and have seen from her in the past. It won’t win her another Oscar, but it’s certainly a fresh look on someone we all thought we’d figured out already.
As with most of his films, Wilkinson provides the much needed stability that other actors may not be able to withstand. He’s got far better roles and far better performances, but with Hotel Wilkinson plays the only real challenging role of the bunch. Years before he ever became a judge in the United States, his character Graham was in love with a man in India. Their love, also forbidden (note to self: never fall in love in India) for obvious reasons, Graham leaves India after their romance sparks an outrage in the society. His Indian lover is nearly banished, meanwhile Graham flees back to America and hides his true feelings from his family. One thing of note here with Wilkinson’s performance that I sometimes feel movies these days really strain, is that he does not speak of his homosexuality like it’s a sin or shameful. In a society where it’s such a hot topic, homosexuality in India is even given a pass and Wilkinson states it matter-of-factly, not even flinching as he flat out states multiple times “I’m gay.”
Hotel is fun at times, heartwarming at others, and overly sappy all of the time. It’s elevated by it’s performances, but feels a bit contrived by the obstacles each character faces. It has high goals of being this witty dramedy about growing old, but it ends up drenched in some massive gooey cheese that may find some audiences craving something a bit more challenging. It breaks no new ground when it attempts to, but it does provide some great actors time to do what they do best.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content and language.
Runtime: 124 mins.
Director: John Madden
Writer: Ol Parker
Cast: Tom Wilkinson, Judi Dench; Bill Nighy; Penelope Wilton; Maggie Smith; Dev Patel
Tagline: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Memorable Movie Quote: "Everything will be all right in the end... if it's not all right then it's not the end."
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Official Site: www.thebestexoticmarigoldhotel.co.uk
Release Date: May 25, 2012
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: September 18, 2012
Synopsis: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel follows a group of British retirees who decide to "outsource" their retirement to less expensive and seemingly exotic India. Enticed by advertisements for the newly restored Marigold Hotel and bolstered with visions of a life of leisure, they arrive to find the palace a shell of its former self. Though the new environment is less luxurious than imagined, they are forever transformed by their shared experiences, discovering that life and love can begin again when you let go of the past.
English SDH, French, Spanish (less)
English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German SDH (less)
Available on Blu-ray - September 18, 2012
Screen Formats: 2.35:1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Croatian, Czech, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Korean, Malay, Mandarin (Simplified), Mandarin (Traditional), Polish, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovenian, Turkish, Vietnamese
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; French: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1; Portuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1; Czech: Dolby Digital 5.1; Hungarian: Dolby Digital 5.1; Polish: Dolby Digital 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
Region Encoding: A, B
- Behind the Story: Lights, Colors and Smiles
- Casting Legends
- Welcome to the "Real" Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
- Trekking to India: "Life is Never the Same"
- Tuk Tuk Travels
- Sneak Peak