The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012)

Better than average

Content written by Tony Macklin. Originally published on May 29, 2012 on tonymacklin.net.

Old folks like familiarity. For most of them, familiarity breeds comfort.

Seniors are a major reason why NCIS stays #1 in the tv ratings. They're also probably the reason that NCIS recently recruited Jamie Lee Curtis as a "romantic interest" for Gibbs (Mark Harmon), though they have absolutely no chemistry.

You expect Jamie Lee to give Gibbs a colon product. Give Jamie Lee her own spin-off - NCIS in Butte, Montana.

Most old folks reject the idea of alternate universes. On tv, Fringe and Awake are well-acted, distinctively-written dramas, but they both have alternate universes. So they are anathema to old folks. Fringe is rated #90, and Awake, which has been cancelled, is #91. No alternate universes in AARP.

But a new movie has something of an alternative universe for seniors. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel goes to Jaipur in Rajasthan, India. How can it possibly ask old folks to journey there?

The movie may have an alternate setting, but the characters are tried and familiar - very familiar.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has faltering charm that at times settles into hokum. Hoary jokes and familiar situations abound. It's more aspirin than Viagra. Despite the foreign setting, folks can be comfortable with the patented characters.

It's the story of an anxious band of aging travellers who go to India seeking solace. Their destination is a hotel that is much less than they expected.

But as Graham (Tom Wilkinson) says, "Why would you not go out? There's so much to see." And Douglas (Bill Nighy) says, "The challenge is to cope. Not just cope - but thrive."

And so the unmagnificent seven travellers, et al., have to find out what they're made of.

What makes The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel work is not the predictable plot and characters. It's the acting. The movie has a special cast.

Even though they often are given pat sequences, the actors are crown-jewel professionals, and their talent glimmers through.

Whether it's a scene with Judi Dench and Bill Nighy conversing, or Dame Judi and Tom Wilkinson, the gifted actors repeatedly show how pros make personal tapestry out of plain cloth.

Or it may be a Maggie Smith speech that has her perverse enchantment. Or Penelope Wilton's galling frustration. [Both Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton appear in tv's Downton Abbey].

The movie also gives us a chance to see Diana Hardcastle - who is the actual wife of actor Tom Wilkinson - playing a lonely woman who finds passion.

Dev Patel is zealous as the enthusiastic young owner of the hotel, who has to struggle against traditions from the past.

John Madden directs The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel with practiced control. Madden does have a flair for the obvious as he showed in The Debt (2011). Ol Parker wrote the conventional screenplay from a novel by Deborah Moggach.

Fortunately, it's nearly impossible for Dench, Nighy, Wilkinson and Smith to be ordinary, and they do transcend their material.

They do manage to bring us to an alternate universe - it's one of talent.

If you ask a senior citizen if he or she goes to the movies, he or she almost certainly will answer "no" with disdain. "They aren't any good anymore."

Some are. Maybe The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel will bring seniors back to the movies.

They may, as Bill Nighy said, "thrive."


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