Monday, May 21, 2012

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL is a movie about older Brits who choose to move to India to live in a palace. They hope that they will be cared for impeccably in their older years, thus allowing a grander life style for those with limited resources , an escape for some, and a grand adventure for others who had depleted their welcome in their own specific social circles. Every wonderful British actor seemed to have signed on:  Judi Dench, looking fabulous in linen; Tom Wilkinson;  Bill Nighty from that delightful film, ‘LOVE ACTUALLY,’ and ‘UNDERWORLD’; and the always pursed up, ever intolerant  Maggie Smith, grimacing at her constipated best. Another favorite actor is Penelope Wilton from BBC’s ‘DOWNTON ABBEY’ as well as the effervescent Dev Patel from the Oscar-winning ‘SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE’. The director,  John Madden of ‘SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE’ fame shaped Deborah Maggach's book THESE FOOLISH THINGS into a gem of a film with the help of Ol Parker's screenplay. It is chock-a-block with love issues: old love, bad love, shamed love, unfulfilled love, gay love, modern love, substitute for love, and the always complicated parental love.

Gem may be too strong a word for this film, since it is pretty predictable. But sometimes that works--we like knowing where we are going and predictability can be just fine. This glimpse into another culture, mediated by the ubiquitous  western disdain for bad water, poverty, incompetence, and ‘those’ simpler dusty people, is typically coupled with an inane superiority that makes it equally playful and off-putting.

A brilliant first ten minutes help us quickly pinpoint each of the seven characters' major traits and foibles. We identify the good one, the prickly one, the sick one, the nice one, and learn who is vulnerable and irritable, who has secrets, and who is the informal leader as well as the survivor. As we watch them in airports and on buses and all uniquely Indian modes of transport, we feel their realization that they are ‘not in Kansas anymore.’
There are no big surprises other than the straightest character freely acknowledging his gayness to the others with most of group understanding and politically correctly sympathetic. We knew who would be the most changed and who was attracted to whom but it was still a gift to watch it unfold. Sometimes no surprises are an okay thing. The person who needed to leave did so and happily everyone else embraced this new chapter of their lives almost unquestioningly. The big question we all leave the theater with is "Would I do the same?” My own bias is that having the old randy guy, and the long in the tooth hottie seeking to improve her lot in life continually highlighted to lighten the mood is tedious and regrettable. Although we all know the' type' we just don't hang out at those mixers anymore, and after age 60 it is not such a good look, even if you are well preserved. Every movie has to have this story line, making for a few predictably lame viagra sorts of jokes.
The views of India are familiar to anyone having visited, and remind those travelers of all the unexpected assaults on the eyes, nose, ears, any hidden sensibilities of our pasteurized life style with this more authentic mixture of the extremes of living. Camels and elephants, chickens and cows share the streets with people, food, plants and trees. Pollution is everywhere, dotted with buildings majestic or humble, old and contemporary. Most appeared crumbling and mildewed.  A few poor untouchables sweep with bristle-challenged brooms, never quite cleaning a spot of dirt for long, just sort of dusting things up. But color is everywhere, in dress and smiles and pace of life.  Once the unfamiliar streets, food and cleanliness become navigable, our seven-some mostly realizes that the fear of unknown threats and imminent diarrhea and disease are all self imposed. Is that not what all of life's big aha moment are anyway, just realizing the truth that was always right in front of you all along?

The goal of the manager of the hotel is to have his guests "so happy here they will not want to die." Played by the lovely Dev Patel, he is pitted into his own Indian family drama of running the decrepit mansion as his mother plans to sell it, while he tries to woo a parental-unapproved- love interest. Untouchables flutter about with no explanation as to their status (which was a unfortunate missed opportunity to teach--but those are always the pieces of dialogue that end up on the cutting room floor.)
The clever quote throughout the movie is "it's all good when it's over. If it's not all good, it's not all over.“ Simplistic, but the one character who feels good (at last) is the one whose life is soon over.
Because everyone portrayed is over 65 for sure, I fear it will not be very mainstream, but the theater I saw it in was packed at 1 pm on a Thursday and admittedly filled with an audience of the same age .  The joy of seeing people at the end of their years looking critically at old habits and morĂ©s and seeing something different than they supposed life would be, adds an excitement to life that is so hopeful for us all. As the small-lettered words under the hotel billboard told us in the beginning the Exotic Marigold Hotel is 'for the elderly and the beautiful.' 

You can be both even in today's culture.

Carole for PGM 

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