The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
John Madden’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a piece of palatable racial condescension that cashes in on the Slumdog Millionaire craze a couple years too late, though perhaps it’s appropriate given the film’s overlying theme of aging. Madden’s comedy-drama about retirees being outsourced to India – that’s the entire joke – doesn’t offer anything of value to the typical early-year “elderly gone wild” genre unless Viagra gags and Judi Dench struggling to work a computer sounds like a heartwarming time at the movies.
The respectable cast lowering themselves to this spectacle is comprised of the aforementioned Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Ronald Pickup, Celia Imrie, and Maggie Smith, all playing pensioners who decide to take a chance and visit the titular retreat, which turns out to be less grandiose than advertised – isn’t India just filthy, the film rhetorically asks? Loosely managing the struggling hotel is young Sonny Kapoor, played by Dev Patel as if every punchline he delivers will be his last, who battles with his stereotypically restrictive mother, a woman that dares not believe in the power of Love. People will fall in love; everything will turn out alright, and there will be a single tragic incident telegraphed an hour prior. There’s nothing new under the sun.
Ultimately the only thing carrying the film from scene to scene is the prestige of its performers. Notably, Dench plays vulnerable against her recent typecasting as a hard-nosed, no-nonsense character, while Wilkinson and Nighy ascend above their simplistic subplots. All of these performers have turned in great performances in better films recently, though, films that don’t wistfully, lazily imagine a magical foreign land where everyone’s problems go away, that also smells, as Nighy’s character says, like elephant feces. What a grand tour.