So last night I watched The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. It was kind of stupid and anticlimactic in a pretty large way (it just went nowhere) but it was fun and flew by despite the two hour running length (movies like this could easily edit to 90 minutes, but I honestly didn’t feel it drag).
The film centers on a group of senior citizens at a crucial turning point in their lives and they all pick up and move to India. They don’t know one another but all wind up living in the same hotel, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. You have a woman who lost her savings after her husband died. You have a gay man in pursuit of his long lost lover. You have a couple financially strapped due to a wayward daughter. You have a grandmother fed up with being used by her daughter. You have an elderly man trying desperately to regain his youth through some tantric sex and you have an old racist in need of a new hip. Together they make an eclectic bunch. Upon their arrival to India all is not as they expected, especially the hotel, which is nearly in ruins. The hotel manager, the young and exuberant Sonny, is in way over his head, but he is determined to make this work. Some of the group immediately start to embrace their newfound surroundings, while others are dead set on hating it.
Over the course of the next two hours, this group seeks for something (nothing we can really put our finger on) and then finds something else (again, I’m not sure what) and the end comes, which works out all right (because obviously when things were going bad they weren’t at the end yet).
My issues with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel stem from lackluster writing. Dench’s voiceover is supposed to shed light on the group’s progressive nature and yet it just feels empty and void of any real substance. Like I said, there doesn’t seem to be any resolve and even when the film draws to a close and they’re talking about not finding what you were looking for but finding something better I was scratching my head wondering just what it was that they actually found.
I mean, India was pretty.
Still, this is a very easy film to watch and the entire cast shines in their respecative ways. Dench turns out a true ‘Meryl Streep in a role Meryl Streep isn’t trying to get Oscar nominated for’ performance, you know, the roles that usually land Meryl a filler Oscar nomination anyways. She’s great here and I actually think it may be one of her finest performances ever since she lightens up and has some fun. She’s always so serious. I’m glad that Nighy did not play Graham, the gay man, because it would have been far too obvious. Thankfully, Tom Wilkinson gets it all sorts of right (more on that in a minute).
I am stumped on something though. Why is Maggie Smith getting singled out here? Sure, she’s funny, but like she’s played this character in nearly every other movie she’s been in. Ha, I know that this is an argument that meets serious opposition by her devoted fans, and I am one of her fans so don’t take that wrong, but Smith has fallen back on stuffy old English woman for quite some time now. In her prime she was all sorts of marvelous (‘California Suite’ is one of the greatest showcases for her talent) but I’m talking about the past decade. Still, she’s been singled out and even received a SAG nomination and is considered in the running for an Oscar nomination for this. Seriously? I’m struggling to understand what it is that she does that is so special. She plays a racist who has a change of heart and learns to walk again. Problem is, it’s a rather underwritten part and she doesn’t have much to chew on other than a scene or two where she spouts a funny line. Instead, I really wish that Tom Wilkinson were getting the awards attention. The way he molds Graham with limited screen time and yet such backstory is sensational. His confession scene with Dench is beautiful, and that hug is heartbreaking, and even though his lighthearted revelation comes off a bit underdeveloped (like, I’m not even sure he knows what he’s getting at) he delivers it with such warmth and adds a beautiful layer to his character.
I don’t think I’d nominate him myself, since so far this year has been a bounty of supporting performances, but it is truly best in show and deserves to be noted as such.
So, at the end of the day I have to say that I was pleased with the overall experience. It is light and fun and has some emotional heft, but it lacks development and winds up being very forgettable because it essentially says absolutely nothing.