Aug 6, 2012

[Movies] The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012)

When it comes to movies, I seem to have a penchant for eldergy British ladies - and there's probably no "right" way of saying that without getting a few giggles. What I mean by this is the fact that a lot of my movie-related sensibilities seem to gravitate towards British comedies and dramas - perhaps the side effect of too much Monty Python in the wee hours of the morning.

This movie came as a surprise to me given the sheer amount of talent involved plus a particularly intriguing story hook to reel you in. This is one of those cases when I'm extremely thankful for the power of social media, otherwise I probably wouldn't have heard about this movie at all. Yes, the likes of Facebook are good for a heck of a lot more than just the spreading of sily memes and stalking ex-lovers.

And like many other British comedies that I've watched, it wasn't necessarily the kind of laughing-out-loud-until-your-sides-hurt kind of humor, which isn't a bad thing. The movie remains delightfully smart, witty and of course with its share of meaningful insights. So yeah, good stuff all around.

Synopsis: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a 2012 British comedy-drama movie based on the book These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach. It was directed by John Madden, whom most probably remember for Shakespeare in Love and Proof.

The movie centers around seven different seniors whos paths converge as they all find themselves at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in Jaipur, India.  Each guest opted to make this move to this hotel "for the elderly and beautiful" given recent changes in their lives. Evelyn (Dame Judi Dench) is now a widow. Jean (Penelope Wilton) and Doug (Bill Nighy) had to find a more affordable retirement option after losing their savings in their daughter's company. Muriel (Dame Maggie Smith) has traveled to India to get a hip replacement operation done at a much more affordable rate. Graham (Tom Wilkinson) is a high court judge who has decided to retire in India given his memories of having lived there as a boy. And both Madge (Celia Imrie) and Norman (Ronald Pickup) are both looking for potential partners, whether for love or just a one-night stand.

The hotel itself is owned and operated by Sonny (Dev Patel), who is determined to restore the hotel to its former glory and fulfill the dreams of his father before him. In truth, he is only part-owner with the rest of the shares belonging to his two brothers who do not share his dreams for the hotel. Beyond this, Sonny is also in love with Sunaina (Tena Desae), who works at a nearby call center. But Sonny has yet to tell his mother (Lillete Dubey) about their relationship for fear of how she'll take it.

Without a doubt, the movie was designed to be a rather light, feel-good sort of movie that leaves you smiling in general even without specific explanations as to why. Sure the characters are interesting enough as concepts and the cast is pretty powerful but on the whole it's just the sort of movie that coasts by as you watch it without really staying around too long in your brain.

But it doesn't make it a bad movie either. It's the sort of multiple-stories  slice-of-life kind of stortelling that we've seen done well in movies like Love Actually or done rather poorly in movies like Valentine's Day. The main difference is the continued focus on the characters and keeping them as human as possible instead of trying to be overly witty (or just trying hard to be thus) or making the story overly complicated through happenstance overlaps in their respective stories. He we have a group of people who do find themselves all together and don't act all surprised when they end up affect one another's lives. This is a single hotel after all.

Naturally both Judi Dench and Maggie Smith do a tremendous job of portraying their respective roles. But given their careers and their wealth of experience, I don't suppose this should be a surprise anymore. If anything, knowing that they're going to do well pretty much acted as my primary motivation for watching this movie.

This is not to say that the rest of the cast did poorly. In fact, most if not all the performances were pretty top notch, in my opinion. The only challenge is the fact that there are so many major characters with their respective stories that it's practically impossible to expect them all to have their time to shine as actors. The end result is a decent showing from each of them, but not quite out there in terms of being able to stand out versus the rest.

Tobie quipped that the movie was sort of like an elderly version of Eat Pray Love, especially for Judi Dench's character. I can get the comparison given how they all ended up finding new meaning for their lives during this fateful trip to India. If anything, I'd like to think they learned more reasonable lessons here than what we saw with Julia Roberts in that other movie.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a nice movie but nothing that really makes any waves. The casting makes it rather indulgent for movie fans of British actors like myself, so you might as well give in and enjoy the movie even if just for that one fact. It still rates a respectable 3.5 adverse reactions to India's spicier cuisine out of a possible 5.

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