Sunday, 8 March 2015

Movie Review: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012)

With how many films I see every month, it’s inevitable that I’ll come across films where I am not the intended demographic for various reasons; whether it’s films aimed at very young audiences like Maya The Bee Movie or Tinker Bell And The Pirate Fairy or films aimed primarily at the opposite gender like 50 Shades Of Grey or The Best Of Me, although I would argue that both of the latter aren't aimed at anyone except for inmates on death row just so the electric chair will feel like a pleasant reprieve. This film, and its currently-released sequel, was once aptly described to me as being for the elderly what Kingsman is for my generation; add to that that this is billed as a feel-good film, and I find myself just as hesitant to watch it as I was three years ago when it first came out. Nevertheless, I pride myself on doing the necessary research when it’s required, and this definitely applies, so before I get to the sequel I’m going to take a look at the first film: This is The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

The plot: Evelyn (Judi Dench), Douglas (Bill Nighy), Jean (Penelope Wilton), Muriel (Maggie Smith), Graham (Tom Wilkinson), Norman (Ronald Pickup) and Madge (Celia Imrie), all elderly Brits, decide of their own accords to stay at the ‘luxurious’ Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in India, run and co-owned by the manic Sonny (Dev Patel). While the dilapidated state of the hotel, not to mention the hustle and bustle on the streets outside it, grate on the residents at first, they soon begin to connect with their surroundings and each other and find some new life.

This is a seriously impressive ensemble cast of seasoned British actors and they in no way slouch in this film; they all give performances befitting their experience at the craft, however there’s a loose screw in the works. I have made jokes in the past about actors being too good at their roles, like Jake Gyllenhall’s crazy turn in Nightcrawler, but here is where that statement is made with all seriousness; Maggie Smith is by no means a bad actor, but she is pretty badly miscast here. Her character starts out as a pretty vocal racist, before going through the expected character development that changes that in quite unrealistic fashion, and she plays it too straight to be watchable. This feels like a character in the same vein as Michael Douglas in And So It Goes, only this character isn’t meant to be funny… I don’t think; like I said, it’s too straight-faced to discern and it actually makes her scenes rather uncomfortable to watch for a time. I make a point of saying ‘miscast’ because if her role was given to Nighy, who is his usual dry-witted self, then this could have worked out a lot better.

That’s not to say that the rest of the characters are all that great; just that Muriel is the only one that genuinely bothered me while watching it. The characterization is pretty thinly drawn, with everyone coming across as different variations of the ‘wacky old person’ archetype without any real substance to them, and the fact that the writer has to juggle so many main characters means that none of them get any solid time for the audience to connect with them. The only real exception here is with Tom Wilkinson as Graham, whose character arc feels like the one that had the most thought, and therefore the most heart, put into it. In all honesty, if the film had focused more on him, making the others supporting roles, then this also could have worked out a lot better.

That’s ultimately what this comes down to at the end of the day: It could have been better but wasn’t. I find myself at that stage where there really isn’t a whole lot that can be said about this film for the simple reason that this film wasn’t made for me. However, I don’t say this because I am well outside of the intended age range for the film, but rather because I don’t have any real affinity for mood pieces like this. The last time I saw a supposed “feel good” movie with last year’s The Hundred-Foot Journey, I found myself in a similar position where I had just seen a film that spent so much time trying to engage the heart that it completely bypassed the head. I will give this film the credit that it isn’t quite as dismal as Hundred-Foot Journey, as this had a third act that feels like it has a reason to exist within the film,  but then again, that’s an easy thing to do when you’re dealing with a film that has no real plot to begin with; it’s just a bunch of character arcs colliding into each other with mixed success. I can’t even bring myself to say that it failed in what it attempted because it plays everything way too safe to give the impression that any real effort was made here
All in all, this is an impeccable cast that does what they can with what they’re given, but the writing and overall feeling of the film are too weak to really create anything substantial, even on an emotional level. The only real emotion I felt upon finishing this film was mild dread at knowing that this somehow got a sequel made of it, along with some apprehension about how Dev Patel is going to be in the upcoming Chappie given his hyperactive performance here. It’s better than A Dangerous Method, as this wasn’t so boring that I actively fell asleep while watching it. However, for as many problems as Red Tails had with its characterization and dialogue, I’d still rather see that for a bit of mindless entertainment than revisit this. This entire review is an example of how dedicated I am to doing this; I may very well end up saying all of this all over again with my review of the sequel, but that isn’t going to stop me from seeing it anyway. This may also go down as one of the worst reviews I’ll write for this blog, but I am compulsive as well as a completionist; some things can’t be helped.

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