DVD Review: Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012)

Director: John Madden
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 123 minutes

Judi Dench as Evelyn Greenslade
Tom Wilkinson as Graham Dashwood
Maggie Smith as Muriel Donnelly
Bill Nighy as Douglas Ainslie
Penelope Wilton as Jean Ainslie
Celia Imrie as Madge Hardcastle
Ronald Pickup as Norman Cousins
Dev Patel as Sonny Kapoor

Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (For The Elderly and Beautiful) is an ensemble film about the lives of 7 strangers (well, actually 2 are a married couple) from England who come together, under very different circumstances, to India. Each is escaping something and each is searching for something. The film is narrated by Evelyn, a new widow who has had to sell her home to pay her late husband's debt. She has never traveled alone, so she is slightly unsure of herself when she decides to set out for India.

Graham is recently retired from the government and decides to return to India, a place he lived when he was younger. Immediately we get the sense that he searching for someone from his past.

Muriel is a retired nanny and housekeeper who has recently suffered a fall and requires surgery. Due to the healthcare system in England, though, she must be put on a waiting list. She discovers that the only way she can have the surgery soon is to travel to India and have it there. This is quite distressing for her as she is quite bigoted.

Douglas and Jean are a married couple in their "golden" years. After investing their retirement money in their daughter's failed business, they realize that all they can afford is a small, plain apartment. Jean is quite distress by this and blames her husband for the situation. Douglas seems to be quietly resigned to the situation and to the constant barrage of negative comments from Jean. In an effort to make their situation better, they decide to travel to India.

Madge is living with her daughter and her husband helping to care for their two young children. Clearly she feels that they are taking advantage of her, so she decides to go on an adventure. Her pattern has always been to try to find a rich husband and this time is no different. She sets out for India on her quest.

Finally, Norman is very lonely and seeking companionship in all the wrong places. He is clearly in his 70's and signs up for various dating services for younger people. When that doesn't work out, he decides to give India a try.

All 7 of them meet on the way to India where they are met with quite a culture shock. The film does a beautiful job of depicting the teeming crowds, overwhelming smells, and the utterly disorienting nature of a foreign country. Evelyn describes it as an "assault on the senses. A riot of noise and color, heat and motion." India is described as "like a wave;  resist and you'll be knocked over. Dive into it and you'll swim out the other side." Luckily, Graham lived in India 40 years ago and remembers enough to get them on the right track.

All of them are staying at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (For The Elderly and Beautiful) in Jaipur. The brochure presented the hotel as quite luxurious, but when they arrive, they find that the brochure was more of a "goal" than a reality.  The hotel is managed by a young, enthusiastic man by the name of Sonny Kapoor who has recently inherited the hotel from his late father. His creed is "Everything will be alright in the end. If it's not alright, then it is most definitely not the end." And things are definitely not alright. The phones do not work, the plumbing leaks, and there are birds in some of the rooms.

The guests soon set out on their own agendas. Graham begins his search for his past, distressed to find that the India of his youth no longer exists. Evelyn exerts her newfound independence by finding a job as a consultant in a call center. Norman and Madge try out the local scene in search of companionship. Muriel undergoes surgery and begins her recovery. And Douglas and Jean's marital strife rises to the surface along with the myriad of mental issues plaguing Jean.

We also follow Sonny as he tries to remain optimistic while the hotel literally falls down around him. He also finds himself at odds with his mother over his choice of girlfriend. In an age old story, he wants to marry for love and she wants him to have an arranged marriage with a suitable girl.

All of this is just to set up the plot of the film. As you can see, there are quite a few story lines and characters to develop. In my opinion, the film bites off more than it can chew. While it is a beautiful film to watch, with the many colors and sights of India, I think it would have been better to have fewer characters and deeper development. The film can't quite decide what it wants to be: a movie about strangers in a strange land or the plight of the young in a country full of outdated traditions.

Having said that, the acting is superb as you might expect from such an all-star veteran cast. Judi Dench and Bill Nighy are both vibrant and beautiful in their portrayals. Tom Wilkinson is restrained yet heartbreaking. Penelope Wilton is perfect as the neurotic wife overcome with anxiety. Maggie Smith manages to bring humanity to an old woman with deeply held prejudices against anything and anyone foreign.

The only complaint I have with the acting was with Dev Patel. He was too frenetic and seemed to be a caricature, not an authentic person. I found his scenes hard to bear.

The country of India is a character in the film as well, and she is at once beautiful and strange. The director and cinematographer do a wonderful job of letting the audience experience the onslaught of stimuli that occurs when a stranger is in a foreign land. I felt like I could feel that crowd pushing past me and smell the strange odors around me. The colors were vibrant and the people were lovely.

I liked the movie, although I feel it could have been 30 minutes shorter. The last bit drags some, which is a shame because there are some touching story lines. If you liked Love Actually, then you might like this movie. It is available now on DVD in my Amazon store in the upper right of this page or you can download here at iTunes The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

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