The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)
★★ / ★★★★

An advertisement that promises a grand and unforgettable experience in Marigold Hotel, located in Jaipur, India, lures seven British folks in their golden years to settle there, away from the financial, familial, and professional stresses of England. Once they arrive, however, the hotel proves far from first-class. Never mind its lack of customers; it does not even have its own phone line. The manager, Sonny (Dev Patel), assuages his new residents’ fears by promising that the place is in a state of transition. With proper funding, the reality will be as picture-perfect as the misleading ad.

Based on the novel by Deborah Moggach and screenplay by Ol Parker, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is lucky in several ways because although it is not particularly exciting despite its exotic locale, it is nonetheless fascinating due to the sublime performances of its seasoned actors. The most deeply affecting strand involves Graham (Tom Wilkinson) and his search for a male friend and one-time lover. The character has a somewhat frail demeanor but his determination to find an answer holds a ferocity that we wonder how he must have been like as young man.

Equally interesting to watch is Evelyn (Judi Dench), a recent widow who decides to dive into the Indian culture without knowing if she is going to sink or swim. Dench injects her character with a balance of pluck and tenderness to the point where Evelyn eventually reminded me of some of my grandmothers. There is beauty, magic, and optimism behind her need to find a distraction from the life she left behind (or the life that left her) because her quest slowly evolves into finding a purpose pregnant with meaning and self-fulfillment. By watching her reinvention, it made me feel less afraid to grow old.

The film’s younger cast leaves a lot to be desired. Just about every time Patel has lines to say, it sounds like he is auditioning for a part in a bad movie. Perhaps it is his attempt to embody an enthusiastic character, given Sonny’s youth and determination to prove to his mother that he can run the business left by his late father, but the actor’s performance is painfully one-note. There are many ways to emote fervor without extreme fluctuations in voice and body language. Thus, Sonny consistently comes across silly and so there is no dramatic gravity that accumulates during the more serious scenes involving his mother’s disapproval of his girlfriend and chosen career path.

Eventually, it has gotten so bad that each time the film jumps to Sonny’s storyline, I groaned a little bit inside—part out of frustration, the other part in preparation, because the conflict that surrounds him is like a page torn from a cheesy television show aimed toward preteens. It does not at all complement the naturalistic performances and contemplative texture of the material.

Directed by John Madden, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is quite good in showing Jaipur without dramatizing things such as its climate, grubbiness, and poverty. When the material focuses on what it means to age and the endeavor required to continue living, it soars. If only the rest held up just as strongly.

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