The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel sees the renaissance of “old cinema” – since followed up with Quartet, A Late Quartet, Amour and more – as the likes of Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Penelope Walton and Bill Nighy waltz off to India on a late-life crisis-cum-pensioners’ gap year.
Unfortunately, whilst it’s refreshing to see Maggie Smith in a slightly unfamiliar role – with the same being true for Penelope Walton – neither are enough to propel this comedy-drama into reaching its capable heights. Smith in fact turns out to be horribly miscast; her loveable nature shines through where it really should not, and any audience sympathy for this explicitly and unashamedly racist character is ill-advised. Walton plays her role of the unimpressed, fearful-of-foreign places Jean to a better degree, though a lack of focus cause her on-screen moments to look and feel more like tantrums than anything more deep-rooted.
How are we supposed to feel the true vibrations of her crumbling marriage to Bill Nighy (who sleepwalks his way through the film) if we spend so little time with either of the two? Therein lies the problem: Marigold Hotel is so concerned with overloading the screen with big names and popular faces that it forgets to give them time to breathe. The other hits in this recent revival of cinema both featuring and primarily targeted towards the older generation limits its star players to a maximum of four, and they are right to do so.
Marigold Hotel attempts to delve into backstories which require depth and meaning in order for us to feel a connection as an audience, and fails at this task. It also means that the turning points and emotional growth of characters is entirely unbelievable due to these being far too quick or without any just cause. Sadly this isn’t the only indictment of those on-screen. Dev Patel, the fresh-faced pup of the group, plays such an over-the-top Indian stereotype that the only thing left to wonder is whether his next appearance will be accompanied by a curry or a cowboy.
The trouble with Patel’s character is that he makes Apu Nahasapeemapetilon look three-dimensional by comparison, whereas at least the latter’s lack of depth is part of the joke. It’s true to say that whilst no-one’s laughing at Dev Patel here the film admittedly does provide a few laughs elsewhere. These are few and far between, however, and alone aren’t enough to prevent the ship from sinking. Every amusing giggle that threatens to break into laughter is sharply extinguished thanks to the following line of dialogue which is inevitably poor and badly delivered. Not surprising, given the amount of cringe-worthy clichés packed into the two hours.
The truth – if you’ll allow a cliché or two in riposte – is that despite hopes and expectations to the contrary this is very much a case of too-many-cooks and the sum being very much weaker than its parts. Despite the temptation (and tendency of some) to become offended and indignant, it’s neither particularly harmful nor is it worth the time and effort to become so. It will amuse the easily-impressed and anger the easily-riled, but the harsh reality of Marigold Hotel is that its sins of wasting a Downton-lite group of performers condemns it to mere mid-ground mediocrity.
Not a particularly bad way to spend a couple of hours, though neither is it a particularly good one. Lacking quality from start to finish; particularly off-screen.