- Character Development
Alot of times I pick movies solely based on their odd names. And then I purposely avoid researching them, electing instead to find out for myself when I press “Play.” That’s what I did with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Or tried to. I cheated a little, because the name can hint towards any genre (Is this Marigold Hotel haunted? Is it full of Hangover-esque shenanigans? Is it full of secret passages for childhood adventures?) and I wanted to be at least semi-prepared.
A quick Google search informed me the movie was a “British comedy drama,” whatever that was. Those are three words that can go any way, really. At first glance, the picture on the back of the DVD showed a bunch of old people in vacation-gear. A British comedy drama about old people? What, oh what, have I gotten myself into? But then I slid the disc into my laptop, pressed play and all my doubts vanished. This is a really, really good movie.
The story follows seven newly-retired seniors now enrolled in a brand-new Indian retirement home. Why in India? Well, everything else is outsourced, supposedly the hot new idea is to outsource the elderly, too. The seven have varying attitudes toward the overseas adventure: Some thought it was a way to find new adventure (or new husbands), others had personal reasons, and most couldn’t afford to do otherwise. Marigold follows each of their stories, letting audiences know every character’s situation, thoughts about getting older, and feelings about their foreign surroundings. It’s told with the same deadpan quirkiness as The Royal Tenenbaums, though with less moral ambiguity. The hotel isn’t the grande luxurious retreat everyone was expecting. It was a barely-staying-afloat venture done by an energetic and optimistic, though not-too-competent young man with worries of his own.
If, when I first saw the DVD cover, I didn’t just dismiss it as “oh, old people on vacation,” and looked a little closer I’d realize that this movie’s packed with ridiculously talented actors, most of whom had been acting longer than I’d been alive. Playing the sweet and honest Evelyn was Judi Dench, best known for her role as “M” in the Bond movies. In Marigold, she’s a glass-half-full widow who counters the loss of her husband and the betrayal felt by the debt he left her with lots of “life is worth living” dialogue that somehow doesn’t sound sappy.
Billy Nighy (Philip in Shaun of the Dead, Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean, Hephaestus in Wrath of the Titans) was there with all his quiet gentlemanly charm. He played the lanky Doug, the meek husband of Jean (Penelope Wilton — also a good performnace, but didn’t get much screen time). Tom Wilkinson gives a very honest performance as Graham, a man who once lived in India and is trying to make ammends for a boyhood incident. Maggie Smith (Professor McGonagall in Harry Potter) played the ethnocentric, racist Muriel — and manages to do so without a curmudgeonly unlikable stereotype.
Dev Patel’s (Jamal Malik in Slumdog Millionaire) performance as the hotel manager, Sonny, and Tena Desae’s performance as his girlfriend, Sunaina, also really stuck out to me. They both added an undercurrent of energy to the setting. This was Desae’s first Hollywood movie — I predict we’ll see more of her.
Everyone involved did an excellent job acting and really became their characters in a very natural way. Even if nothing else about the movie was noteworthy (it was), I’d happily rent it anyway for the two hour pleasure of watching this great group of actors do what they do best.
The Character Development
Typically in movies portraying characters of a certain demographic (race, gender, age group), you either get overdone, un-researched generalized stereotypes or you get characters that are deliberately created to break that stereotype — for instance a foul-mouthed old lady. Neither is a very respectful way of dealing with the issue.
In Marigold, however, you have an honest depiction of retirement-aged individuals trying to come to terms with themselves and the world. The fact that they’re older is neither condescended nor dismissed. Typically in movies you can break characters down to descriptions: “The blonde,” “the nerd,” “the teenager.” None of the characters in this movie could be reduced to that. They were all just people.
Another remarkable thing was that this movie featured nine different people — seven retirees plus the hotel owner and his girlfriend. Some character did get swept under the rug (more about that in “the bad” section), but each were completely distinct identities. It wasn’t just, as I originally thought when I picked up the DVD, “a bunch of old people.”
An Original Plot
The “fish out of water” adaption story isn’t a new one. All the time there are movies about people getting plopped into unfamiliar situations and having to make the best out of it. But this one had an entirely new spin on it. The reason the plot stuck with me could’ve been due to the characters, who were well-formed and not just playing pieces in a movie meant to make a cultural statement. Or it could’ve been how director John Madden didn’t hammer in the cultural faux pas and let any culture-shock scenes play out naturally without overmphasis. It might have been because not every character in the end was completely integrated and happy in their foreign land — sometimes, for some people, the lesson in a foreign place is “there’s no place like home.” It was this un-scripted feel to the film, this feeling that we were watching normal people behaving like normal people do, as opposed to behaving like what people in movies do, that made Marigold different.
There were, however, a few places that fell short. Though Madden was smart enough to leave some negative elements alone — he didn’t force failing relationships, for instance — sometimes the happily-ever-afters came off a little fake. I can believe that a hotel in India can broaden cultural expectations, I can believe that time spent away from family can make you feel more independent, but I have more trouble believing that it can give you a complete personality makeover. For some characters — Doug, Graham, Evelyn — who embraced the adventure from the start, I felt satisfied by their growth at the end. But for others, I feel like their new tolerance of adverse circumstances was very much a product of Hollywood.
Another fake-sounding element was Sonny’s repetitious, relentlessly optimistic sayings. I like, “Everything works out all right in the end, and if everything’s not all right, then it’s not the end,” but he lays it on a bit thick.
Also, can the issue of arranged marriage vs. freedom to marry who you love be any more overplayed? There was the typical young Indian boy standing up to his mother about his girlfriend. The theme did prove to be an interesting plot element that contributed some good scenes — both funny and serious — to the movie. However, I feel as if the inclusion wasn’t necessary to the plot but instead served more as an afterthought – “oh, right, we’re in India, better throw in some arranged marriage stuff.”
Too Many Characters!
I loved all the characters as they were all played beautifully. There was just so much to keep track of! I feel like they could have trimmed the fat a little by cutting a few scenes, especially since not everyone’s life intersected with everyone else’s. We have the trio of Evelyn, Jean, and Doug who are sort of a love triangle, so we need them. Graham adds words of wisdom to everyone, so he’s important. And Muriel has the most trouble adapting, so it’s good to keep her. But the other two, Madge (Celia Imrie) and Norman (Ronald Pickup), though awesome characters don’t really contribute much. They’re both looking for love in their golden years. I’m sure it’s meant to add to the “romance is possible at any age” theme and maybe give a few laughs, but I found it as a distraction from the main characters’ storylines.
Overall Score: 4 stars out of 5
I really wanted to give Marigold five out of five, I really, really did, but just couldn’t quite give it to them. It was fun, it was funny, it made me smile, and I’ll watch it again in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, the overwhelming cast of characters and the handfull of irksome cliches knocked it down.
Buy It, Rent It, or Skip It?
This is definitely a movie worth buying. It’s not really the thing to watch when a bunch of rowdy friends are over, but it’s a good, quiet after-dinner movie. Put Best Exotic Marigold Hotel on your “to watch” list!
‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ Trailer