Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Art & Culture

TBEMH (as it will henceforth be known) is a crowd-pleasing undemanding, predictable entertainment, aimed squarely at its greying audience in the same way that the hotel in the film is targeted at a clientele who feel unloved and unacknowledged by the majority of modern films. It's about as imaginative as a Chicken Tikka, and about as Indian.

The film opens in the UK where a diverse bunch of retirees are finding life increasingly unattractive. Judi Dench's husband has died, leaving her with debts, and a son keen to take over her life. Grumpy old Maggie Smith needs a hip operation, and will have to wait for months. Tom Wilkinson is a High Court Judge who's had enough of wearing a silly costume. Celia Imrie would like to find a rich man, while Ronald Pickup wants a sexy younger woman. And Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton are faced with relative poverty and the rest of their lives stuck with each other.

Thus, for their different reasons they are attracted by the website blurb for TBEMH in Jaipur, run by the youthfully optimistic but ungrounded Dev Patel, who has located a potentially fruitful market in retirees from the UK looking for a cheaper and warm older age, but doesn't have the business nous to exploit it properly. He also has a gorgeous girlfriend whom his bossy mother doesn't want him to marry.

In fact one of the film's problems, and the reason it goes on so long, is because there are so many bloody stories. Each of the characters has their history, and the film is requires them to move through their allotted process and emerge the other side wiser/better/happier/deader or whatever. Wilkinson, for example, who is gay, was brought up in India, and had a love affair with a man who he hasn't seen for 40 years. He wants to find his friend and see what has happened. He's one of the Nice Characters who we approve of; as are Judi Dench (older widow finding her feet post-husband) and Bill Nighy (hen-pecked husband standing by his horrible wife). Maggie Smith on the other hand, doesn't like black people and says so frequently, so she'll obviously have to learn to be a Nicer Person, though whether there's any hope for Penelope Wilton who can't stand the heat, the flies, the poverty and the food (but apart from that …) is another matter.

There is something of a history of films about the English in India (Passage To India, Black Narcissus and Jewel In The Crown, for example), and also recently, of films about older people living abroad (usually starring Dench and/or Smith). This represents the best (or worst) of both worlds, with every cliche and unoriginal image of India being presented for an audience whose idea of travel is a Senior Railcard to Aberystwyth. It's probably irrelevant whether I like it or not, since this has a predestined an audience as Pirates of the Caribbean. It's an Older Persons Movie, and older people will go and see it. Just don't say I sent you.


Phil Raby

Front Row Films

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