It seems Hollywood’s appetite for a humongous cast of the finest British actors is insatiable. In The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel you’ll see Bill Nighy, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson and more, but there is nothing in the film other than a hazy air of self-importance and a minor escapade for big fans of the actors.
John Madden’s films have seldom veered away from saccharine, and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is an odd mixture of sappy storytelling and pretentious filmmaking. Based on the book ‘The Foolish Things’, the film is a rom-com revolving around a pack of Brit old timers looking to get away to an exotic place and keep their worries aside. An ultra-cheap hotel in Jaipur becomes an unlikely host to Evelyn Greenslade (Judi Dench), a widow dealing with her late husband’s debt, ex-civil servant Douglas (Bill Nighy) and his demanding wife Jean (Penelope Wilton), the player Norman (Ronald Pickup), a saucy broad (Celia Imrie) who is on the lookout to getting hitched to a rich man, a rich former judge (Tom Wilkinson) who has returned to India, and the snappy ex-housekeeper Muriel (Maggie Smith) uptight about her hip replacement surgery.
We get the expected chuckles from the sixty-plus year old characters, wrought with a tinge of mischief and light on drama, and it is all delivered with ease by the cast of actors who are clearly very friendly off camera. The problem is that there is no indication that the film will play out in anything other than the most clichéd, predictable manner. Madden doesn't bother to throw in any new or interesting colors on the actors, and even proceeds to hammer us with the stereotyped Indian characters found in most books and movies. There’s the hotel manager Sonny (Dev Patel) whose romance with a telephone receptionist Sunaina (Tena Desae) is opposed by the brother and the mother. Instead of doing anything new Madden slums with plenty of hackneyed themes like old age pension, long lost love, crumbling marriage, and the eyeroll inducing superficial emphasis on ‘old’ and the ‘new India’, and the white men discovering how charming the culture in this country is.
The acting overall is naturally a big plus, and the Brit veterans are as unforced as always. Dev Patel who was cast presumably for name-recognition value sticks out like a zit, unfortunately, with his confused hammy parlance. The lovely Tena Desae doesn’t have much of a role and Lilette Dubey seems as if she is counting the moments until she can leave the set. The climax is as forced as it is ridiculously feel-good, and if that’s the sort of fluffy cinema you don’t mind, then by all means watch it.
(First published in MiD Day)