“If I can’t pronounce it, I don’t want to eat it.”
I’m infamous for enjoying the most barbaric kinds of humour. I like gross out comedy, sex comedy, and even racial comedy. Thus, when a ‘smart’ comedy comes out, I usually never have any interest in seeing them. There are times when I do actually enjoy a comedy with a witty and subtle script – Up in the Air is an excellent example. The most recent addition to this list is The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (one hell of a title). I never had any real interest in seeing this even though I liked the trailer. When I was dragged along to see it with a cousin, I wasn’t reluctant, and I actually really enjoyed this film. I can’t say this is the funniest film I’ve seen all year, but it does provide many laughs throughout the running time, and it’s rich with character and gorgeous imagery. Best yet, there’s nothing too depressing about it. This is, at the heart of it, an extremely fun and sweet feel-good movie.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in India is the new home for a group of old British retirees who can’t afford to stay in Britain anymore. They are stubborn prejudiced Muriel (Maggie Smith), who needs a hip replacement, mismatched married couple Douglas (Bill Nighy) and Jean (Penelope Wilton), recent widow Evelyn (Judi Dench), Graham (Tom Wilkinson), who grew up in India and has past issues to deal with, good-time girl Madge (Celia Imrie) who’s looking for a rich husband, and Norman (Ronald Pickup), an inveterate ladies’ man who’s actually just looking for romance. Each responds to this strange, colourful new world in different ways. The young owner of the hotel, Sonny (Dev Patel), is defying his family in keeping on with this inherited white elephant and in wanting to marry the girl he loves.
Written by Ol Parker, the film is an adaptation of Deborah Moggarch’s novel, and it goes in directions you’d pretty much expect it to. Just from the trailer, you can tell already that The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a predictable film. That being said, it doesn’t damage the film in a horrific way. It does take away the element of surprise, but the film still packs in a lot of hilarious lines and characters. Parker’s script is rich with interesting characters, with the more well-known stars getting the most attention. Graham, Evelyn, Douglas, and Muriel all have terrific arcs – they’re developed extremely well. It’s a shame that the rest of the characters don’t get much of a look into at all. Still, there’s enough romance and laughter between the characters to keep the film moving at fun and brisk pace. There’s also a lot of emotion thrown in for good measure – there are sad moments in the film, and they do manage to tug at the heart-strings.
Parker’s dialogue is witty throughout, and the film rarely depends on physical gags and raunch to generate laughter like most comedies we see nowadays. This is simply dialogue and character driven. Muriel in particular will guarantee applause from the audience. Although she is a caricature, her racism and fussy attitude is actually hilarious. Yes, she may be a tad bit obnoxious during the start of the film – but that’s the point. Her transformation in the film is beautiful as she spends more time with another culture. Also really funny is the character of Norman, although his best jokes are featured in the trailer. There is a touch of romance in the film, particularly with Sonny and his girlfriend, and this is slightly weak as it detracts from most of the film. The same goes with the budding relationship between Evelyn and Douglas. All this romance just feels forced.
The cast is the main selling point of the movie. Director John Madden has gathered a group of veteran British performers to play the leads in the film, and they’re all in top form. Judi Dench plays her role beautifully, creating a nuanced and likeable character. It’s nice to see Bill Nighy playing a normal human being for once, and he’s actually really fine. Tom Wilkinson doesn’t get the most screen-time as one would imagine, but he’s definitely one of wiser characters. There’s a gentle screen presence he has that works well in this. Maggie Smith really shines in this as well. Dropping the whole persona of Professor McGonagall, Smith dives into her racist character with ease, and adds a nice adorable touch to her performance. Last but not least, Dev Patel is a lot of fun as Sonny. Surprisingly, we haven’t seen a lot of him after his performance in the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire (maybe it was The Last Airbender), but he definitely brought real enjoyment to his character, and it definitely shows he has a bright future in comedy.
Madden’s direction is great, and although he doesn’t take the film in unexpected places, he works well in his comfort zone. The film looks absolutely beautiful, thanks to the handsome photography by Ben Davis. Davis captures the colour and vibrancy of India gorgeously – this depicts the country in a truly positive manner. Also working for me was the score by Thomas Newman, which had a nice festive feel to it. All these technical elements give The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel an aspect of Indian culture – the combination of the cinematography and sound gives the audience a real look into this country.
Overall, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a delicate and sweet comedy that should be enjoyed by all ages. No matter what kind of comedy you’re into, the film will generate laughter from you, and it leaves you with a good feeling. Yes, it’s extremely predictable, and there’s nothing groundbreaking or new here, but if you just want a film that’s enjoyable and immensely satisfying, this should be witnessed by you.