Every once in a while it’s nice to take a break from the endless gusher of summer blockbusters. Instead, I today gaze at the infinite stream of summer feel-good films that wrangle loyalty from academy members brooding in retirement homes. This summer’s first such movie is The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and it plays like an Expendables for Britain’s aging dramatic actors. It’s not high art, but it’s not quite bad.
The first scene introduces the cast and explains what brings them to the Marigold. I spent about half of the sequence checking off nerd bingo squares. M from Bond, the Prime Minister from season 2 of Doctor Who, professor McGonagall from Harry Potter and that mob boss from RockNRolla all try to pretend that they’re mild mannered retirees who haven’t participated in gunfights and/or saved the universe on multiple occasions. Still, considering that it’s an all star cast there are depressingly few stand out performances. Judi Dench (M) is as charming as usual as a young-again seventy-something trying to find herself. Tom Wilkinson (RockNRolla mobster) and Bill Nighy (also Doctor Who) make valiant efforts as aging men struggling with their sexuality and marriage respectively. Dev Patel, one of the four Indian actors you’ve heard of thanks to Slumdog Millionaire, carries his weight as the hotel’s manic manager.
It’s telling that I only just remembered that the majority of the movie takes place in Jaipur, India. The location is largely a backdrop although it aspires to be more. The observations made about the local culture and social climate come off as shallow and idealized, like something you would read out of a seventh grade social studies textbook. The First Exotic Doctor Who RockNRolla is a story that wants to be about coming to terms with where you are in life, making the best of your situation and finding joy where others might not even think to look. It also wants to be about all of the subtle beauty and terror that is inherent in modern India, but in its cautiousness and eagerness to please its feel-good audience, it safely sticks to a bland parade of cliches.
“You’re nervous about giving a speech? Picture them all in their underwear!”
“My mother doesn’t approve of our relationship… If I don’t shape up, she’ll arrange me a marriage!”
“If I can’t pronounce it, I won’t it eat!”
“Hark, I am but an elderly racist shrew. I am stuck in my ways, but-what’s this? Now that I have encountered a brown person who touches my heart, the damaged nerve that caused me to develop my prejudice in the first place has been uncovered! My character will now undergo a full 180 and become a last-minute-save-the-day-hero!”
And that doesn’t make Marigold a bad movie. It’s not. It’s funny, it’s energetic and it has a lot of heart. It’s just a shame to see a film come off as mediocre when it could have been great.
Prometheus in 3.