The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
(John Madden, 2011, UK)
Adapted from Deborah Moggach’s alternatively titled ‘These Foolish Things’, John Madden’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a finely composed, featherweight romp that sees a group of Britain’s most extinguished actors descending upon the sunny climes of India in an effort to trade in on their waning lives in England. Starring Judie Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Celia Imrie and Tom Wilkinson, amongst others, Madden’s film plays like a picture-perfect advertisement for Jaipur, awash with bright vivid colours and the unfailing fervour of the locals, but so much visual panache quickly begins to mask a film with very little going on beneath its glowing sheen.
Whisking away a troupe of various “self-deluded old fossils”, as one of them points out, to spend their autumn years in a luxury palace (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel of the title) is a promising though slightly thin premise, and Madden revels in the various comic set pieces that prey on lost in translation-style jokes. It doesn’t long take for the guests to attract upset stomachs after a bout of unagreeable food, for example, and although the gags range from bawdy physical pratfalls to genuinely humorous, scathing one-liners, mostly spouted by Maggie Smith’s overtly racist, cockney curmudgeon (“If I can’t pronounce it, I don’t want to eat it”), the cast are more than able to tackle the scattershot material.
Although their characters tend to be based on rather patronising stereotypes of the elderly, so out of touch with their sexuality and baffled by the notion of Wi-Fi internet technology, the ensemble are clearly fully committed to their roles, especially Dench, whose point-of-view narration anchors the film. She gives a melancholic, tender performance that gels well with Wilkinson’s lonely court judge seeking his lost love and Nighy, who pedals out his usual zany shtick but with it a downtrodden edge, stuck in a disappearing marriage with his haughty wife, played by Penelope Wilton. Yet, for all it’s potential, the film ultimately lacks focus and suffers from the same fate that befalls many other collaborative comedies (see Richard Curtis’s two directed features, Love Actually and The Boat That Rocked); it boasts a wealth of big names that, once established, all have varying amounts of activity within the broad narrative. Each have arcs that either go nowhere or are wrapped up all to easily, and although there is much fun to be had with Imrie and Ronald Pickup’s twinkly-eyed characters excitably looking for love, they don’t really do much once the central concept of their undersexed characters is revealed.
Choosing to bypass the monetary hardships of India à la Slumdog Millionaire (whose Dev Patel also stars) to maintain a more glossy, puritanical attitude, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a sunny, sugary and rather laid back film that forgoes narrative speculation and wastes no time in jetting the audience off on a clichéd vacation where the characters rediscover themselves and realise that love, above all else, never dies. Unashamedly predictable, Madden’s latest is a happily piecemeal affair that will, like his Shakespeare in Love, appeal to the masses and offer a charming and perfectly diverting two hours, but very little else.