Although brimming with stereotypes and clichéd storylines, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is one of the most surprisingly genuine and entertaining films this year.
The film follows a group of elderly British folk who have come to a crossroads in their lives. They discover the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful in Jaipur, India, and soon discover themselves and what they want out of life—whether it is an escape from a crumbling marriage, a connection with a lost lover or the means to find one’s purpose.
The premise itself may come across as silly and unoriginal, but it is truly the strength of the cast that makes it work. Judi Dench as Evelyn carries the film with a grace and charm that has distinguished her as one of the finest living actresses of our time, and her full-circle journey is the most satisfying to experience.
Maggie Smith was hilarious as the bitter but sincerely compassionate Muriel, while Tom Wilkinson gave a heartfelt portrayal of a man struggling to express himself to those around him.
The cinematography was particularly remarkable with its lush shots of modern India, but suffered when it came to the fast cuts of bustling city life. Nevertheless, all was redeemed by Thomas Newman’s exceptional score, which blended the unique flavors of Indian music with a distinctly contemporary sound.
The film’s major weakness was the many stereotypes it resorted to when depicting the Indian characters. Dev Patel of “Slumdog Millionaire” fame portrays the hotel’s ambitious young owner, whose primary goal is to “outsource” old age. Patel gives it his all and brings a colossal amount of energy to a role that is quite dreadfully written.
His character of Sonny has an over-bearing mother that does not approve of his “modern” girlfriend. His mother insists he have an arranged marriage and believes that his ambitions of running a hotel are ridiculous. The dialogue that accompanies these confrontations is positively eye rolling, and the reinforced stereotypes of Indian culture verge on painful to watch.
There were also instances of forced symbolism that came across as calculated ploys to pull at the heartstrings rather than genuine illustrations of these characters’ desires. When everyone simultaneously looks up to watch a single bird fly across the sky, it is as if someone is screaming how emblematic the whole occasion is.
Luckily, “Marigold Hotel” does not dwell on these moments for long and instead allows us to go on an often-hysterical journey with this lively cast of characters. While a few puns come across as forced, the old age-centric humor is both dry and astute in its delivery. There is nothing quite like watching Ronald Pickup read a “Kama Sutra” book or Dench chugging a gin and tonic because she believes it is water. Even the gags featured in the poorly executed theatrical trailer were just as fresh and amusing in the context of the actual story.
Overall, the themes of the film transcend old age and welcome everyone to empathize and connect with these characters. Watching them labeled as “useless” and “insignificant” by society because of their age was dispiriting, but it made their self-actualizations all the more gratifying.
“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is an enjoyable if not conventional ride, but is worth the outing just to see this talented cast of veteran British actors do what they do best.