The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel advertises itself in a glossy brochure as the ideal destination for the elderly and the beautiful. A bunch of British senior citizens at the end of the road in their lives, whether mentally, emotionally or physically get taken in by the premise and land up there hoping to find some meaning and direction and in one case a conclusion to an unfinished story
The realization that the hotel is nowhere close to what has been promised by the hyper enthusiastic owner is handed with varying degrees of acceptance by the 6 people and then the story traces the path of each of their lives.
The first half of the movie is gentle and lyrical even as the old people try to make sense of the chaos that is an Indian city, in this case Jaipur. Each one is fighting his or her own demon and as their stories progress you empathize with each characters predicament, even that of a xenophobic racist person like Miss Donnelly who has come for a cheap hip replacement surgery. Gradually their lives reach some sort of conclusion and satisfaction and the movie winds down.
If the story had kept its focus on the inner lives of each of the 6 people it would have worked perfectly well. However, there is a huge distraction of the hotel owner and his attempts at making the hotel, his fathers dream, a success complicated further by his love for a girl his mother does not approve of. I thought this angle was just a total waste of time and the one jarring and false note in an interesting story.
The performances by the stellar cast are first rate. I specially loved the frustrated nervous energy of Jean Ainslie played by Penelope Wilton as she struggles with her desires and her disgust with her marriage. Dev Patel is doomed to be a perpetual Peter Pan and this gets in the way of his performing any serious role altogether. He looks and acts like a confused 16 year old schoolboy trying to resurrect the hotel. As for the romance, the less said the better. Also, I think its a bit unfair to ask him to play an Indian when he is not really one. Its rather like taking coals to Newcastle. I am sure they could have found a good Indian actor to play this role much better. Or maybe its just laziness on the part of the makers to use him and the echo of his Slumdog role to slot him in the foreign audiences mind as the Indian boy.
The second half also does not work because it starts telling rather than showing what you need to know. It undermines the intelligence of the audience after setting us up to think along with the characters. The film winds down in a sort of rush with everyone explaining himself or herself rather theatrically when it should all have ended quite naturally without any of the chatter.
Overall, its a decent movie to watch. One could see that the concerns of the old were no different than those of the young-money; love and sex were still as much on their minds as any twenty year old. A bit different from the buzurg as we know them in India and that for me was the interesting part of the movie. The thing also to keep i mind is that its not about India at al. I think it could have been set in say Thailand and the story would have been the same. Its a personal story not a country one.
There are 9 releases this weekend. I suggest you read all the reviews and then figure if this is your cup of tea.