Review: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel | John Madden | 2012 | ★

Spoilers ahead.

I like to think of myself as someone with high tolerance to material that exists for no other reason than to make its audience cry and feel things. I mean, The Help was one of my favorite films of last year, so my threshold is quite high. However, to an extent I feel that the movie still has to earn my tears by at least having a story worthy of them. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has potential to be one of these stories what with it being about a bunch of older English people traveling to India for what could probably be one last adventure. But ultimately, with six different stories to tell two which exist only for comedic relief, two terribly uninteresting, and two with so much wasted potential, the film ended up being one of the worst I’ve seen this year.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel follows the stories of a group of British seniors as they travel to India. Evelyn (Judi Dench) goes because her husband of 40 years just died and needs to do something radical. Graham (Tom Wilkinson) is a High Court Judge and retires to complete a mysterious task. Douglas and Jean (Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton) go because they don’t want to spend the rest of their years in a senior-living facility. Muriel (Maggie Smith) is a racist who only goes to have her hip replaced. Finally, Madge and Ronald (Celia Imrie and Ronald Pickup) are two single and horny people looking for a change of scenery. They stay at “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” run by Sonny (Dev Patel), whose dream is to run a hotel where seniors die happy, but who also has his share of problems as his ultra conservative mother does not approve of his girlfriend.

From all those stories, only Graham and Muriel’s are the most interesting. The former is about him returning to India after 40 years because when he lived there he had a relationship with one of his male friends, but after they were discovered, he was sent off to England and he feared that the love of his life lived a life filled with shame because of him. The latter is about her not only dealing with her deteriorating help, but finding new meaning in the hotel as back in England she had been the house keeper of a wealthy family for many years, after raising the family’s children and loving them as her own, and then being let go as if she was a mere employee. Both of these stories could be given their own film, and the actors playing them are more than capable to carry a film on their own. Yet, they are reduced to afterthoughts with the other stories, and in fact Graham’s story comes off as corny because of the reduced time it was allotted.

Not helping either is John Maddens lackluster direction. There’s no style, not one attempt at making the film stand out in any way apart from its great cast. If there is any beauty in the movie it is because of some of its beautiful settings, but nothing else.

In the end, only Maggie Smith comes unscathed from this, and she is the only worthy aspect of the film. With that cast and the people behind it, it should have been much better. It’s one of the biggest disappointments of the year.

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