I don't want to suggest that only old people read newspapers, but I sure have gotten a lot of inquiries during the past few weeks about "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," an autumn-years comedy-drama intended to put a spring in its target audience's footstep, thanks to an all-star assembly of senior citizens headed by Judi Dench and Maggie Smith.
Arriving today at the Cordova Cinema and Ridgeway Four, "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" follows a group of Kipling-quoting British retirees lured by exaggerated promises of leisure and luxury to a once stately but ramshackle "palace" in Jaipur, India, where the earnest and clean-cut young manager (Dev Patel, the "Slumdog Millionaire") wants to "outsource old age."
A group of British retirees decide to "outsource" their retirement to less expensive and seemingly exotic India. Enticed by advertisements for the newly restored Marigold ...
Rating: PG-13 for sexual content and language
Length: 118 minutes
Released: May 4, 2012 Limited
Cast: Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Dev Patel
Director: John Madden
Writer: Deborah Moggach
The seniors are intended to represent a cross-section of aging (white) England, though viewers may be more likely to think "Masterpiece Theatre" than "diversity."
Dench is a debt-ridden new widower whose diary jottings function as the film's voiceover narration; she immediately embraces India's "riot of color and noise."
Smith, who spends most of the film in a wheelchair, is a comically bigoted termagant with a bad hip who insists: "If I can't pronounce it, I don't want to eat it." The word "feisty" is expected to come to mind.
Tom Wilkinson is a soft-spoken judge with a secret whose story of lost love might have inspired a more interesting film than the one in which it appears.
Uptight Penelope Wilton and beleaguered Bill Nighy are an unhappily married couple; Celia Imrie is a flirty husband-hunter; and the appropriately named Ronald Pickup is a whiskery old goat of a lothario who comments: "I've still got it. I can't find anyone who wants it."
In the movie's only really funny exchange, Imrie asks Pickup: "You're not worried about the danger of having sex at your age?" Replies Pickup: "If she dies, she dies."
Of course, life in the so-called Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful will prove to be transformative for all involved. Says the hotel manager: "In India we have a saying: Everything will be all right." This bit of wisdom is introduced early, and no doubt many moviegoers will be reassured by the promise of a happy ending. Others may feel they've been invited to an Indian restaurant where the buffet consists of white bread and boiled potatoes.
Adapted by screenwriter Ol Parker from a 2004 novel by Deborah Moggach, "The Best Exotic Motel" has enabled the too often neglected "mature" audience to demonstrate that it's an economic force to be reckoned with: Already a big hit, this "Motel" has earned $88 million at the box office in its first 12 weeks of limited international release.
Too bad this largesse didn't benefit a worthier cause. Directed by John Madden ("Shakespeare in Love"), the film is not just corny and predictable but poorly shot and constructed. The poor lighting and dull camera angles make India appear to be a dreary place, even late in the film, when most of the characters are supposed to have succumbed to its subcontinental charms.
The visuals are not just dim but dishonest. To suggest the chaos of the streets, a ride in the three-wheeled motorcabs known as "tuk-tuks" is shot with vertiginous angles and edited with a Veg-O-Matic; presented in this manner, even the progress of a tortoise across a Galapagos hillock would appear as reckless as a prison riot.
-- John Beifuss: 529-2394