The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is named well – like its hyperbolic title, the film is similar to a kitschy peacock that thinks it’s much better than it really is. But of course, kitsch can be really good – and this is great in lots of ways.
The film’s strongest point is the cinematography; stunning wide shots of Jaipur fill the screen with explosions of colour over and over. Visual brilliance almost makes up for everything that is lacking here.
The main downfall is the script; it’s lame and clichéd at times. However, with accomplished actors like Judi Dench and Bill Nighy, it’s often carried so well that the cringe factor is surprisingly low. Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson and Penelope Wilton are also part of the outstanding cast that graces the film.
Seven retirees have flown to India for various reasons, and become companions in a newly opened hotel. It is advertised as being especially for ‘the old and beautiful’, but does not match any expectation they had – comfort or otherwise. “We are outsourcing old age!” says Sunny, the scatterbrained young hotel manager. “There are lots of other countries where they don’t like old people either!”
The film is a tongue in cheek tale of westerners taking advantage of India’s cheap labour, but getting their just deserts too. “Yes ma’m, straight away in three months!’ promises Sunny, when one of the women demands a refund, because the hotel is so run down.
Dev Patel, who is best known for his role in Slumdog Millionaire, is a great asset to the film; his character Sunny – also true to the name – is lovable, cheesy, and just what the doctor ordered to make this piece of fluff a feel- good flick.
Muriel (Maggie Smith) is the face of racism. There’s no denying that art imitates life in this character; but she gets what she deserves on many levels – it’s brilliant, and often hilarious.
Jean (Penelope Wilton), with her pompous Queen’s English accent, is likely just as racist as Muriel, but tries to hide it, though badly. She also learns a thing or two, but is nowhere near as enlightened by the end of it all, showing that sadly, some people choose never to open their eyes.
As wonderful as every character’s journey is, the speed with which they leap from one epiphany to the next is quite unbelievable. Muriel, who at the age of roughly 70 is so racist that she refuses to have a black doctor examine her in England, ends up so chummy with an Indian servant girl that she hangs out with her family in a slum? A traditional Indian mother who has been refusing to let her son choose a wife for years, changes her mind in five minutes, and even chuckles lightheartedly about it?
But let’s not dwell on negativity. Clearly the film is meant to be a bit of light fun, and it certainly is. It’s pretty much happy endings all round, so if you want a good laugh and a warm fuzzy feeling at the end of two hours, this one will do it for you.