Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Run Time: 2 hours and 4 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Maggie Smith, Ronald Pickup, Dev Patel, Tena Desae, Celia Imrie
Directed by John Madden (The Debt, Shakespeare in Love, Killshot)
Location can sometimes become a character itself, and in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, India plays one of the central roles. It is a film bursting at the seams with talented actors, compiling what is almost a who’s who of British acting royalty. But there is more glitter than there is gold, and the film eventually overstays its welcome.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is based on the 2004 novel These Foolish Things by English writer Deborah Moggach. The film version starts off incredibly strong as we get a glimpse into the lives of several seniors from different walks of life, and we sense that none of them are quite as happy as they can be. Their stories are inter-cut before merging together when we see them all at an airport boarding a plane for India.
For different reasons, all of them have signed on to stay at "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" in India, which from the brochure and website seems like a plush, luxurious resort where they will be pampered and treated as kings and queens. Of course, when they all arrive they discover that the place is a run-down slum. The saving grace is the youthful and overly optimistic hotel manager (Dev Patel, recognizable as the star of 2008's Slumdog Millionaire). He paints his hotel in the best possible light for his new guests, even if it needs a bit of actual paint. He tells them that there is a saying in India: That everything will be happy in the end, so if they are not happy it must not yet be the end. It's a hard philosophy to argue with.
So a bit disheveled, the strangers settle in. Maggie Smith plays the foul-mouth racist old nag, while Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton are an aging couple who take to their new surroundings in very different ways. Ronald Pickup is great as a senior-citizen who still fancies himself a ladies' man, and Celia Imrie is a single senior looking for some late-life adventure.
But the story seems to focus primarily on Graham (Tom Wilkinson) and Evelyn (Judi Dench). Graham has returned to India with a few secrets, and Evelyn is a widow who has decided to start anew overseas.
When the hotel is not the center of the story, the movie excels with tremendous performances and a great balance of characters. Sadly about half-way through, it becomes more about the hotel owner's feud with his controlling mother, who wants to shut down the unsuccessful hotel and who disapproves of her son's love life.
Anybody who has watched any melodramatic Lifetime movie can predict most of the twists and arcs presented here. The longer it went on, the less I tended to care about these people. The predictable paths of many of the characters at first seemed fresh, but much of what happens is as old and tired as some of the occupants being spotlighted.
The film had a strange sapping effect, where it went from greatness to solid entertainment and by the end, blandness. Some vacations need not go on for too long.
Still, strong performances and interaction between the all-star actors and actresses make The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel worth checking in to.
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