Directed by: John Madden
Premise: A group of British retirees spend time at a hotel in India. While there each of them comes to terms with age while the young owner of the hotel (Dev Patel) struggles to keep the establishment open.
What Works: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is an entertaining story about a group of people coming to a new understanding about themselves and the meaning of their lives. With its Indian setting and themes of self-discovery, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel draws immediate comparisons to Eat Pray Love but this is by far a better film. For one, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel actually has something to say. The body of each character’s narrative gets to some substance about aging and finding or redefining a sense of self in the twilight years of life. While each character explores his or her new circumstances the filmmakers generally resist the kinds of prepackaged, self-help snake oil that these sorts of films often rely on. They also demonstrate a willingness to allow for pain and disappointment and that gives the lessons that the characters encounter more veracity. For another, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel avoids much of the pretense of Eat Pray Love and films like it. Although it deals with mortality, frailty, and marginalization, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is also very funny and the humor alleviates the weight of the themes and makes them easier to digest. The picture is largely successful with all of this because of the strength of its central cast. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has a number of reliable actors including Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Penelope Wilton, Bill Nighy, and Maggie Smith. The script does not require the actors to do heavy lifting but each of the main performers brings a lot to his or her role and they are a very pleasant cast to watch.
What Doesn’t: Despite the ways in which The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel surpasses the kind of travelogue embodied by films like Eat Pray Love, this film still suffers from some of the same problems. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel reinforces a master narrative of Oriental exoticism in which Westerns travel to the East in search of enlightenment. This film isn’t as egregious as many others and the substantive writing of the characters throughout the middle of the picture largely makes up for it, especially when the film is compared with the self-absorbed and self-pitying pseudo-philosophy of Eat Pray Love. In fact, the story’s emphasis on aging and the characters’ confrontations with the shortcomings of life demonstrate that the filmmakers are conscious of this worldview and try to upend its stereotypes and conventions. They never quite accomplish that but the fact that they attempt to do so distinguishes the film. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is more troubled in the ways it concludes its various narratives. The resolutions of the storylines are mostly absurd, especially the ending in which the young Indian owner reconciles his troubled relationship with his mother and his romantic relationship with his girlfriend. These endings are too tidy and do not match with the more complex and weary tone of the rest of the film.
Bottom Line: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a very pleasant film to watch. It isn’t going to change anyone’s life but the film does have more to it than a lot of stories that tread on similar thematic territory.
Episode: #392 (June 17, 2012)