Tuesday, May 15, 2012

the best exotic marigold hotel

The brochures for the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in Jaipur, India may be a bit misleading — the hotel doesn't quite match up to the photoshopped advertising. But the previews for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel let the audience know exactly what they are in for — a charming, if predictable film featuring some of the best British actors out there. A lot of the film's joys are in its predictability. We want to see Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, and the others as fish out of water who are forced to re-imagine their golden years. Directed by John Madden (Shakespeare in Love, The Debt) the film follows its characters as they are forced to downsize their lives and find themselves in their new lives as ex-pats.

Evelyn (Judi Dench), Graham (Tom Wilkinson), and Douglas (Bill Nighy) stroll through the city.
Evelyn (Judi Dench), "Nothing here has worked out quite as I expected." 
Muriel (Maggie Smith), "Most things don't. But sometimes what happens instead is the good stuff."
Once the group gets to India the screen absolutely bursts with color and confusion, as the audience is immersed in the culture of Jaipur as abruptly as its main characters. When they reach their destination it's more than a little bit of a disappointment. Clearly not as advertised, the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is rundown, with no working phones, doubtful plumbing, and an overall ramshackle appearance. But its proprietor Sonny (Dev Patel) is so full of charm and enthusiasm that most of the group decide to make the best of their new surroundings. They soon begin to tentatively explore the area, each person finding a way to connect to the culture:
Evelyn (Judi Dench), a recent widow who has never held a job in her life, finds work at a call center and starts a blog about her new life in India. 
Graham (Tom Wilkinson), who grew up in India, has returned to find an old love and seek forgiveness. 
Douglas (Bill Nighy) and Jean (Penelope Wilton) react to their new home in decidedly different ways, Douglas immersing himself in the food and culture and visiting local temples, while Jean won't even leave the confines of the hotel and dreams of returning to England at the first opportunity. Their marriage is far from healthy, as Jean lets him know, "When I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you." Wilton (Downton Abbey) seems to be the go-to actress when you want someone uptight, rigid and annoying.
Madge (Celia Imrie) and Norman (Ronald Pickup) have both come to India looking for love — but not with each other. 
Muriel (Maggie Smith), has come to India for a hip operation. She is at first not just resistant to the culture, but decidedly racist. Her connection to a young maid at the hotel has a positive effect on her.
Muriel (Maggie Smith) is at first doubtful of her surroundings.
Sonny's vision of a home for the "elderly and beautiful," so wonderful that they will “refuse to die” is infectious for most of his residents, but doesn't impress his no-nonsense mother, who wants her third favorite son to give up his dream, sell the hotel, move back to Delhi, and settle into a marriage she has arranged for him. Never mind that Sonny loves the beautiful Sunaina (Tena Desae), who works at the same call center as Evelyn. Sonny's idea of "outsourcing old age" is an interesting one, and many issues of aging and clashes of culture come up in subtle ways throughout the film, as each member of the group acclimates to Jaipur.
Sonny, "Everything will be all right in the end . . . if it's not all right, then it's not the end."
What could be a better metaphor for aging than Sonny's catchphrase, which he says a few times in the film? The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is not only entertaining, but a depiction of hope for the future. There are many more dreams to be dreamed, adventures to have, and goals to be reached, even after one has reached "a certain age."
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