The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a film that’s easy to be cynical about; a safe, agreeable feel good story featuring a plethora of safe, agreeable well-known British actors and promoting the lesser known message that we can learn from other cultures rather than just colonising them. The film’s creators seem to have accepted this, relying on the idea that if you occupy a film with enough elderly household names to recreate The Last of the Summer Wine then it doesn’t really matter if the plot is an encyclopedia of tired clichés, people will still pay to go and see it. However if we put our cynicism aside and accept the clichés, than we can embrace an extremely well made film that ultimately becomes greater than the sum of its parts.
We follow the stories of seven retirerees who, for reasons varying from romantic endeavours to a hip operation, find themselves staying at a run down hotel in the centre of India. In the midst of this, each character must reconcile themselves with both the alien culture and surroundings, as well as their own personal demons. On this basic premise it’s difficult to critique The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It’s filled with a cast of movie veterans from the likes of Judi Dench and Bill Nighy to Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton, for whom saying that they give an outstanding performance is akin to announcing that New Zealand are pretty good at rugby. Dev Patel (of Slumdog Millionaire fame) does particularly well in providing his own brand of comedy, standing out amid the most basic of romances.
The incredible cast are only outdone by the country they inhabit. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel attempts to make you fall in love with India in the same way that Midnight in Paris made you fall in love with the golden twenties of France. The extent to which director John Madden succeeds in this endeavour is debatable (his approach is somewhat blunt as characters simply state how much they love India rather than allowing us to form the conclusion ourselves) nevertheless the aesthetic of the roaring streets of Mumbai and the tranquillity of its temples is endearing and manages to refresh archaic plot devices in an Indian light.
However, the main problem with the film is its comedy. At points the blend of dark humour and slapstick is genuinely funny but, for the most part,The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel relies upon a formulaic brand of referential humour that becomes as old and tired as the characters. Stereotypical jokes about old age, marriage and casual racism are repeated ad nauseam to the extent that you just want to stand up and scream “we get it, you’re old!”. This wouldn’t be as much of a problem if the basic plot truly communicated the light hearted feel-good vibe it sets out to rather than serving only as the framing reference for the ‘comedic’ exchanges that occupy most of the script.
Perhaps the film isn’t the problem here, perhaps the problem is us. It’s a little disorientating watching a film where it couldn’t be clearer that you are not the target audience; whilst the students in the room acknowledged the humour with an appreciative smile the rest of the audience, comprised mainly of middle-aged and older groups, roared into mirth, emulating a hyperactive laughter track throughout the film. As damning as this review may be it’s hard to argue with an audience reaction like that. Whilst the younger of us would be advised to give it a miss, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is definitely a film to recommend to the parents.