This tour group is pretty humdrum
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, May 4, 2012
A blandly middling crowd pleaser, "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" follows a group of seven English retirees who have taken up residence in a seedy Indian boarding house. The entertainment that one is able to derive from it is directly proportional to the appeal of each character.
Those levels vary widely.
At the delightful end of the spectrum is Judi Dench's Evelyn, a recent widow whose loneliness and hard-won wisdom is rendered in an affectingly nuanced performance by the great British actress. At the other end is Maggie Smith's Muriel, a nakedly racist coot rendered in a strident, one-note caricature by the otherwise great British actress. How strange to see this pair of dames - who shone together in the 2004 "Ladies in Lavender" - at such odds.
To be fair, it's less Smith's fault than the script's. Based on the book "These Foolish Things" by Deborah Moggach, Ol Parker's screenplay gives Smith little room to breathe, or to breathe life into what is essentially a cliche: the crotchety old biddy. She's not the only one, either. Penelope Wilton's Jean is equally unpleasant, her face contorted in a mask of constant misery. "All you give out is endless negativity," complains Jean's long-suffering husband, Douglas (Bill Nighy).
He's right about that.
Douglas is one of the more interesting characters, and his growing friendship with Evelyn is one of the film's pleasures. Another fascinating performance is Tom Wilkinson's Graham, a bachelor lawyer who once lived in India as a young man. Graham has returned for a very specific - and ultimately heartbreaking - reason.
Ronald Pickup's Norman is essentially the ensemble's clown: the lovably dirty old man. Celia Imrie's Madge, on the other hand, elicits no strong feelings either way. Rounding out the cast is Dev Patel as the hotel's inept manager. A side story about his romance with a pretty call-center operator (Tena Desae) only makes the film busier, with Patel emoting as if he were playing Shakespeare in the Park.
Some viewers may respond to the film's message that it's never too late for love. Others may groan at its reliance on paleolithic vaudeville humor. "At my age," Muriel says, "I don't even buy green bananas." Colonialist stereotypes also abound: India is dirty and inefficient, and the food will give you the runs.
A scene of the seven main characters rushing in and out of the loo after dinner is enough to induce indigestion in the audience.
That said, the film is neither terrible nor great, despite moments at both extremes. That shouldn't come as any surprise, considering that its director, John Madden, made both "Shakespeare in Love" and "Captain Corelli's Mandolin."
I could watch a whole movie about Evelyn, Douglas and Graham. If only the other characters didn't keep wandering onto the set, spoiling everything.
Contains brief obscenity and some sexual humor.