We review The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – Too middling to be must-watch

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Pensioner-centric The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel probably won’t be a top viewing priority for regular The Movies readers, unless you have a serious appreciation of veteran British acting talent. If you’re considering a movie date with your mom or gran, though, then this mildly saucy, but otherwise inoffensive, comedy drama is a perfect option.

This said, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel isn’t really one of those movies that MUST be experienced on the big screen. Apart from its cast, the film does nothing to truly distinguish itself, and, in turn, make a pricey trip to the cinema a necessity.

Loosely based on the novel These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is at its heart a tale of self-discovery, and second chances late in life. Lured by enticing marketing material, a group of British retirees jet off to India in the hope of escaping loneliness, debt, cramped old age homes and unbearably long waits for medical procedures. Rather unsurprisingly, retiring abroad isn’t quite what this assortment of tech-savvy seniors, rogues, Indiaphiles and good ol’ fashioned English racists were expecting. They find themselves living in a dilapidated hotel run by Sonny (Dev Patel), who has more enthusiasm than sense, along with domestic problems of his own.

Initially, our heroes and heroines struggle with the challenges of their new situation. However, seeing that the film’s mantra is the feel-good “Everything will be alright in the end; if it’s not alright then it’s not the end,” the audience shouldn’t expect a shocking, bleak conclusion. Every character who undergoes a transformation gets their (mostly) happy ending… even if these endings are a bit too neat to be entirely convincing.

There’s no denying that the biggest selling point of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is its cast. It’s a marvel that director John (Shakespeare in Love) Madden managed to assemble such a who’s who of acclaimed British thespians in a single film: Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson and Downton Abbey co-stars Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton. Unfortunately though, despite featuring such an impressive cast, the film doesn’t do much at all to capitalise on the full extent of their talents.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel evidently has no real ambitions, preferring to cruise along happily in third gear. Given the heavyweight acting talent involved, the film is disappointingly light and unaffecting for the most part. It stretches to neither extremes of drama nor comedy, preferring to stick to the safe middle ground: a combination of pleasantly watchable and mildly amusing, but nothing more.

In terms of performances, Wilkinson enjoys the most touching storyline, and here the film handles a potentially controversial subject with sensitivity and casual acceptance you’re unlikely to find in an American film. Smith gets the funniest lines – of the shockingly politically incorrect variety. Meanwhile, Nighy is my personal favourite of the actors. His gangly, always slightly awkward, ex-civil servant demonstrates a quiet, good guy sense of loyalty that’s inversely proportionate to his DIY skill.

Out of interest, Nighy’s character also spends a good chunk of the film visiting Hindu temples and prattling on about their spiritual impact. Strangely though, the audience doesn’t ever get to see these temples, or generally share in the characters’ exploratory experiences. Despite The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’s setting in India, the viewer is never treated to the dazzling landscape shots we’ve come to expect from this kind of “self-upliftment through travel” film. Instead, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel feels at times quite confined location-wise, as if we’re watching a theatre production. And frankly, if we aren’t being wowed with footage of teeming, vibrant India – its cityscapes and countryside – what’s the point of watching this movie on the big screen?

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a difficult film to dislike. It builds a lot of good favour around its exceptional cast, as well as the movie’s general positivity and uplifting “It’s never too late to change” message. But really, one can’t help but think that, given the talent involved, you should be able to say The Best Exotic Marigold is much more than simply “nice.” Sadly, I can’t.

Last Updated: March 29, 2012

Noelle Adams

Sometime Tomb Raider. Full-time Pop Culture fanatic and Geekaissance Woman. Most often spotted outputting Pop Culture opinion pieces, writing fanfic and original genre fare, cosplaying and bringing the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu smackdown. Editor of the Comics and Toys section.

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