The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel Directed by: John Madden Cast: Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup, Dev Patel Running Time: 2 hrs 2 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: May 4, 2012 (Chicago)
PLOT: A group of British retirees travel to India to stay at a dilapidated hotel purposefully geared towards the "elderly and beautiful."
WHO'S IT FOR? Though this film features actors of a higher age, it wisely plays into the stars' general fan base. If you enjoy Maggie Smith, for example, you might get a couple of guffaws out of watching her play a cranky racist woman here. With its shallow presentation of India, this one would be most enjoyable for people who don't care to experience another culture. This story is too cheesy for any age.
Probably because Disney's Epcot still refuses to acknowledge India as a country or whatever, the white bread characters of this story instead go to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel to add some spice to their existence. Some of them have more believable motivations to randomly live across the globe, and some don't. But because of their experience in this sheltered piece of BS whimsy, these characters leave us looking just as boring as when we first met them.
Packing heat with two actresses from the hit MTV show "Downton Abbey," The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel features a group of recognizable actors like Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, and it even throws in a Slumdog Millionaire Dev Patel in for rounded measure (to appeal to the teens who sneak into the wrong theater, presumably). What it doesn't feature is classy usage of these actors, with Wilkinson the only one with a strong and heartfelt story. In a better world, one in which this story isn't clouded by so many useless characters, Wilkinson's character might have his own cheese-less film (but even he gets a schmaltzy sign-off here). The rest of these simple characters are thrown into episodes so weak they rival the emotional potential of a stock photo used in a brochure.
The rest of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is all kinds of foul. The idea that a cranky Maggie Smith is turned into Richard Dreyfuss from the historically terrible My Life in Ruins is only the beginning of the aggressive ugliness that coats this movie as if it were naturally part of the Indian scenery.
The effect of these visitors' excessive stay at the title location doesn't provide any miraculous change, but instead as some whippersnapper might say, it helps them "get with the times." For example, one of the guests ends up getting "the first job of her life." Another one learns to not be too disrespectful against people of darker skin (though she has no problem bossing them around for mobility sake).
What these tourists experience is not spectacular, but is instead another ugly tale of white folk displaying superiority over patient people of darker skin color. Best Exotic Marigold Hotel speaks more about automatic segregation and the reigning English superiority than it does the effect that drastically changing your unhappy surroundings can have on making you the best person possible.
Though it lacks a grotesque racist joke, the movie still shows these rude outsiders as people ungrateful to those who offer a helping hand. These are English "elderly and beautiful" citizens who go to India to be treated like "Indian royalty," but see their temporary residence as entitlement to the assistance of any person they desire. Many of the characters' actions concerning their new surroundings are absurdly selfish. The movie is much less about these people wanting to immerse themselves a new culture, but more about how they try to change the surroundings to better fit their selfish needs.
One woman forces an employee out of his room (with no hesitation) simply because her first room doesn't have a door (which later is a factor in some dumb drama that wouldn't have happened if someone were not so snobby). In another instance, one woman randomly wanders into some courtyard outside of the hotel, knocks over some pots, and then gets a non-pissed resident to take her somewhere else. These house guests don't seem to realize that although they found a conveniently cheap hotel, (with Wi-Fi but no telephones, for some reason), not every other Indian is entitled to them with spontaneous servitude. And since the a**holes of this movie were too lazy to look it up, the phrase "Thank you" is pronounced "shukriya" in Hindi.
It's an international crime then that Dench's soapy voiceover dares to say that she and her smug visitors are "adapting to the environment," when their experience rarely involves truly stepping outside the physical and emotional confines of the hotel. With an exception of Wilkinson's character, they have little understanding of the culture around them, and they refuse to learn the language of the place that they are staying for over fifty days. Even when they are given Indian food, they eventually complain in order to have it meet their taste buds. These outsiders never become anywhere close to a part of the culture, but instead are tourists to a fantasy that never has the fairy dust swept away.
Pathetically, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel supports an audience's ignorant understanding of the land by cutting cultural corners in its presentation. Despite its easy potential to inform and delight, this movie excludes audience members from feeling immersed into its shooting location.
Though Bill Nighy's character gushes about a trip to a temple, or seeing the city at night, we don't see these apparently beautiful images. Later in the movie, an unnamed parade featuring loud percussion and bright colors becomes more connected with the film's earlier complaints about the land being "an attack on the senses" than anything else. It's a road block in the film's quest to drag viewers back to the ugliest kind of sheltered experience.
FINAL SCORE: 3/10