The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel Review: Older, Not Wiser
Older characters are frequently side-lined in films these days. At most they’re usually on hand for some light comic relief or to dispense a pearl of wisdom to the lead; rarely are they the leads themselves. So a film which focuses on not one but seven characters all over 60 is remarkable.
The group comprises newly widowed Evelyn (Judi Dench), forced to be independent for the first time in her life; Muriel (Maggie Smith), a wheelchair-bound cockney bigot waiting for a hip replacement; Douglas and Jean (Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton), a married couple that are growing apart; Madge (Celia Imrie), an unrepentant gold-digger; Norman (Ronald Pickup), a randy old goat looking for love and Graham (Tom Wilkinson), a retired high court judge searching for his long lost love.
They’ve all decidedly to spend their remaining years in a supposedly luxurious holiday hotel in Rajasthan only to find that the exuberant young manager Sonny (Dev Patel) has rather oversold the facilities.
Meanwhile Sonny has some problems of his own as the hotel is on the brink of closure and his mother disapproves strongly of his girlfriend (Tena Desae).
From the moment we’re introduced to the characters, it’s obvious where the story arcs will go. One of the party won’t survive (place your bets now) and the others will learn belated life lessons along the way which will change their outlooks. That’s a perfectly acceptable if unambitious goal but unfortunately the workmanlike script by Ol Parker means that every character has room for precisely one character trait each.
Needless to say, with such a strong cast, the performances are superb but rarely manage to escape the two dimensionality that the script foists upon them – a scene in which Evelyn tutors an Indian call centre’s workers on the etiquette of speaking to elderly potential customers (actually treat them like people – who’d have thought?), and Graham’s desperate searching for a love he hasn’t seen in over 40 years are both scenes which are sensitive and dignified.
Elsewhere, there’s no room for subtlety. Maggie Smith’s Muriel transforms from sneering bigot to tolerant liberal seemingly overnight – an event which coincides with her discovering that she can walk, and Marge and Ronald salacious longings are played for rather cheap laughs but left further unexplored. That’s unsurprising as with a large number of characters, there’s not much time (even in a film which clocks in at over two hours) to really give each their due.
A solution would be to cut down the amount of time spent with Dev Patel’s hyperactive motor mouth proprietor (seemingly doomed to affect an Indian accent he doesn’t in fact have). Not only is his constant blabbering extremely irritating but he has no chemistry with the supposed love of his life and his mother’s predictable last minute change of heart about their suitability never even comes close to convincing.
But despite its clunkiness, it does at least make an effort to reach out to a demographic so often ignored by cinema without resorting to condescension. It’s far from greatness but it’s a gentle film with its heart in the right place and there are moments of wry insight (particularly in the film’s first half), tenderness and compassion which never make it any less than watchable.