Director: John Madden
Starring: Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Penelope Wilton, Bill Nighy, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup, Dev Patel
UK Release date: 24 February 2012
Certificate: 12A (123 mins)
Seven elderly British people leave the UK to spend their twilight years in India at The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in Jaipur. They all have their different motives for choosing India: Graham grew up here, for Jean and Douglas it is a cheaper option, and Muriel is having her hip replacement outsourced. And they all approach India and retirement with different expectations and varying levels of contentment.
This is a film about old people, and jokes about death and old age abound. Having been told that she must wait six months for a hip replacement in the UK, Muriel is appalled. How can she plan that far ahead at her age? ‘I don’t even buy green bananas!’ Jokes aside, it unashamedly tells a story in which every major character except one is above the age of 60, and it is told from their point of view. It is not at all interested in relationships with or reactions of children or younger colleagues, with the exception, of course, of the young, enthusiastic and somewhat incompetent hotel manager.
This is a bold move because the story will not immediately appeal to the majority of the cinema-going population, and it is both refreshing and encouraging to see a film like this. Far too often storylines related to the elderly take a decisive back seat, and older characters either provide a comic element or are filler characters with no real purpose, reflecting perhaps a trend within society in general to sideline the elderly and to fail to consider properly their needs. It is a trend completely lacking in foresight, for with continuing advances in medical science, those who dismiss the elderly now will live even longer than their parents and reap the effect of their own disinterest which they will bequeath to their children.
But it is not merely foolish; it is ignorant and selfish. It is part of a broader trend which encourages people not to look beyond their own interests and experiences. We all have a very narrow experience of life, but interaction with others broadens our understanding of and appreciation for life and for one another. One way in which we can all easily access different worlds and different lives is through stories, whether in books, on the radio, on television or in the cinema. It is easy to identify with people who are just like us, but our challenge is to empathise with those who are different, to love our neighbour. Empathy is not a natural state or a thing that some have and others do not. Empathy, like all habits good and bad, grows with exercise, and it is well known that an effective way of exercising our empathy is through experiencing stories told from someone else’s point of view (though, admittedly, novels are more effective here than films). So while The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a film about old people, it is not a film for old people. It is a film for everyone. It is about confronting changes in life and about accepting the new and unknown. It is about the adventure that life can be.
It hardly need be said that the acting in this film is brilliant. The cast is composed of some of the finest actors of their generation. And as the one young member of the main cast, Dev Patel seems very comfortable beside these acting giants.
It is unfortunate then that the script and the direction do not help this engaging story to reach its full potential. The script shows promise but is too clunky and unpolished. Some of the dialogue seems stiff and unnatural, and there are too many observations about human nature not properly woven into it. Reflective monologues may work in Shakespeare, and these would be the actors to deliver them with full emotive force, but in a modern, light-hearted piece about Britons in India, they are awkward and disturb the flow.
Each one of the characters has an interesting story, and they relate to one another in interesting ways, but there are far too many major characters for a two-hour film. In trying to tell the stories of eight characters, not one gets a proper voice. We never get the feeling that these are real people. Even with all the acting power in this production, the characters never really come alive because they simply have no room to breathe.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is an enjoyable film with performances by some well-loved British actors, but it could have benefitted from a serious revision of the script and perhaps some greater consideration for what it was meant to achieve and the sort of story it was trying to tell.
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