out of Five
Running time: 118
Its superb cast ensures that The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel will probably be a hit with its target audience, but the script feels underwritten and it's never quite as funny or as emotionally engaging as it ought to be.
What's it all about?
Directed by John Madden, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is based on a novel (These Foolish Things) by Deborah Moggach and stars Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Tom Wilkinson, Ronald Pickup and Celia Imrie as a group of seven pensioners who move to India's Rajasthan in order to retire in a supposedly restored hotel run by the exuberant Sonny (Dev Patel), who has somewhat oversold the hotel's facilities.
Once installed, each of the characters embarks on their own subplot: cash-strapped widow Evelyn (Dench) embraces the culture and finds a new lease of life; bigoted Muriel (Maggie Smith) goes in for a cheap hip replacement and is befriended by her Indian carer; put-upon Douglas (Nighy) and his nagging wife Jean (Wilton) discover cracks in their marriage; recently retired judge Graham (Wilkinson) searches for his lost love; and randy Norman (Pickup) and sex-obsessed Madge (Imrie) explore the thriving Rajasthan pensioner dating scene. Meanwhile, Sonny has troubles of his own: the hotel is on the verge of closure and his mother (Lillette Dubey) disapproves of his sexy girlfriend (Tena Desae).
Needless to say, the performances are excellent, with Dench and Smith probably the stand-outs, while it's refreshing to see Wilton effectively cast against type as the film's only unlikeable character (that she doesn't revert to the more familiar Wilton persona is the film's only real surprise). On top of that, Madden makes terrific use of some authentic Indian locations (the film was shot entirely in India), aided by Ben Davis' colourful cinematography.
Early on in the film, an obnoxious estate agent character witters on about “the grey pound”, and although the scene is played for laughs, it's a bit rich, considering that “the grey pound” is exactly the audience that's so unashamedly and aggressively targeted by the film itself. However, the main problem is the script, which is thick with stereotypes and clichés and reduces all its players to one-note characterisations (only Dench is allowed a little more depth).
On top of that, Patel is extremely annoying throughout (there's no chemistry between him and Desae), while the underwritten Pickup and Imrie receive extremely short shrift in the story department and some of the character development is decidedly unconvincing.
This is very much a case of “great cast, shame about the script”, though the likeable performances and colourful location work ensure that The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel remains watchable, even if it never quite engages on an emotional level.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (12A)