Directed by:John Madden
A pervasive sense of melancholy pervades this adaptation of Deborah Maggach’s novel about 7 aging Brits who decamp to India’s famed city of Jaipur, seeking relief from lives lived amid economic, health & family pressures back home. Although blessed with a plethora of British acting talent (Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, etc.) and the allure of India’s dazzling locations, the movie oscillates between age-appropriate one-liners about the perils of growing old juxtaposed with the characters’ efforts to find meaning and purpose in their lives. The results won’t appeal to those under 60, but it does provide a pleasant enough vehicle for the cohort to the north of that age.
Director John Madden begins his tale with brief introductions of his expatriates in their native habitat, forced to find less expensive housing, cheaper health care, or escape from the demands of family. Introduced separately, they’re brought together on the flight to India and their chaotic arrival at The Marigold Hotel, whose brochures promise quietly elegant facilities at a price the wayfarers can afford. Sonny Kapoor, the hotel’s owner/manager, (played by Slumdog Millionaire’s Dev Patel) is a caricature of what Anglo-Saxons believe about Indian people; emotional, immature and prone to obsequious overstatement, Sonny tries to overcome his facility’s obvious dilapidation with assurances that better days lie ahead once he can secure the necessary financing to renovate. Unwilling or unable to finance their return to England, the hotel’s new residents settle in, some to old lives lived in new places, others to new lives experienced in a radically different culture.Audiences won’t be surprised to discover that some won’t handle the adjustment well, while others find the necessary resilience to adapt and thrive.
If The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel doesn’t break new dramatic or storytelling ground (the plot rigorously adheres to the rules of conventional soap opera) there is much cultural food for thought in what the script scrupulously avoids - - the fact that each of these individuals (5 single, 2 married) leave immediate family members behind with little concern and even less contact once they’ve arrived in India. Death, romance and new employment occur, but no more than the vaguest reference to those left behind. There is no more telling example of the demise of the extended family in contemporary society than that to be found (by inference) in this movie.
But family life isn’t the only missing institution here; our 7 intrepid seekers express no interest in or reliance upon any spiritual tradition or religious institutional support in their struggle to find meaning and purpose in their lives. They may be forced to deal with new lives out of the necessities imposed by old ones but none is interested in looking for answers beyond the boundaries of their own experience. This is a mini-society so thoroughly secularized that even the death of one among them is experienced as an alien event. No one ponders; no one reflects, no one prays…
It’s a tribute to the movie’s stellar cast of British talent that the movie provides a certain entertaining charm; each actor takes the lines given them and breathes life and credibility into characters we’ve all seen before. Marigold Hotel’s attractions lie in the alchemy of its performances and nowhere else. Despite its many quietly appealing moments, substantive weaknesses in its script make this down-beat examination of the challenges of old age - - social, economic, sexual - - far less than it might have been.
The Verdict? A curiously detached examination of the perils & muted joys of growing old which will appeal principally to those whose age allows them to closely identify with the lives on screen.
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