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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington Wilmington@moviecitynews.com

Wilmington on Movies: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL (Three Stars)
U.K.: John Madden, 2012 (20th Century Fox)
Some countries have massive oil deposits; some have huge veins of silver or gold. England is blessed with a large, constantly replenished reservoir of prime acting talent. They’re a nation that probably has more great (and good) stage and movie actors than any other place that leaps to mind. (All that and Shakespeare too.)
A goodly number of those first-class English actors (seven) play sizable roles in the sparkling ensemble of the highly likable and engaging new British film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Expertly, poignantly and wittily, they portray seven elderly or more middle-aged Londoners who have responded to (or fallen for) the persuasive and colorful advertisements for an establishment called, also, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
This Hotel happens to be a supposedly upscale lodging place in Jaipur, India, for British retirees. And these guests are a treasure house of British theatrical and film talent: Tom Wilkinson as Graham Dashwood (a judge who grew up in India), Maggie Smith as Muriel Donnelly (a longtime housekeeper seething with prejudice), Ronald Pickup as Norman Cousins (unattached and still on the prowl), Celia Imre as Maggie Hardcastle (ditto), Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton as Douglas and Jean Ainslie (a solidly incompatible couple) and, also serving as the film‘s narrator (through her blog), Judi Dench as the warm-hearted, cast-adrift widow Evelyn Greenslade.
The movie — based by director John Madden and screenwriter Ol Parker on Deborah Moogach‘s novel, “These Foolish Things“ — is a nice little comedy-drama, intelligently made and beautifully designed and shot. But the acting is what makes it special. That glittering cast of British senior stars are a magnificent seven, and it might have been even more so. Peter O’Toole and Julie Christie were originally slotted for the roles played by Pickup and Imre (not that those two are in any way deficient), but were somehow lost along the way. (Salaries?) A pity, because O’Toole and Christie, two recent Oscar nominees, are among the dispiritingly large number of great movie actors (and great British actors) whom we don’t see often enough, thanks to the seemingly ingrained ageism of the movies. We don’t get enough of them, and many others.  It would have been a great treatdelight to watch the man who played Lawrence of Arabia and the woman who played Lara, in Exotic dalliance, in the roles intended for them here.

But, of course, we should be thankful for the seven we have, and also for their junior colleagues in the movie, including the actor, Dev Patel, who plays their much younger host, the burblingly enthusiastic and self-deceiving Sonny Kapoor. Sonny owns the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (inherited from his father), and he also manages it, has prepared the glowing advertising — and has, shall we say, exaggerated. Compared to most luxury hotels, the Exotic is a little seedy, and, thanks to Sonny, not particularly well-run — though I’ve got to admit, with its classic Satyajit-Ray-film décor, it looked great to me.

Patel’s face will be familiar; he played the contestant on Slumdog Millionaire. Perhaps he was a bit intimidated by his fellow actors here — as well he should be — because he tends to overplay a little. Not too much, but it’s noticeable when you compare him with his older British castmates – with such masters of subtlety and insight as Wilkinson and Dench, such a grande dame of stylish wit as Maggie Smith (here doing to the servant class, what she usually does to the rich), and such a wizard of the odd and offbeat as Nighy — as well as such sturdy artists of emotion or humor as Pickup, Imre and Wilton.

The seven guests are the key to the tale, and they’re the reason to watch the film. Madden and Parker devote some time to Sonny’s problems with his lovely fiancee, Suneina (Tena Desae), and with his stubborn mother (Lillete Dubey), crises that include both the travails of hotel management and of potential marrriage in a society with a tradition of arranged marriages. But mostly what we follow — and what we’re primarily interested in — are the star guests.

The most poignant turn belongs to Wilkerson as Graham, portraying, with great restraint and keen perception, a gay man at the end of his life trying to re-connect with the Indian friend who was the love of his life, whom he hasn’t seen since youth, and whom he believes he permanently wronged. The most likeable guest is Dench as Evelyn, beguilingly showing us the difficulties of  adjusting to life without the person (her late husband) who shaped and ordered her routines. The funniest is Smith. A genius of timing as always, she starts off the movie as an outspoken bigot, and undergoes that gratifying change of heart we see often enough in movies and too seldom in life.

Imre and Pickup, as Madge and Norman, show us that sex springs eternal — and Nighy and Wilton, as the incompatible Ainslies, show us that rotten marriages do as well. It’s a delight watching all of them. The direction by Madden — who gave Judi Dench one of her finest hours, and also her finest ten minutes, in Mrs. Brown and Shakespeare in Love — keeps the film’s gentler and more languorous pace humming and the comedy and drama smoothly interwoven. If there’s a problem with the film, it’s in the script, which is a bit too pat, a bit too brisk . Things happen, we feel, not because they inevitably would happen to those people in that place, but because we expect them in a story like this.

SPOILER ALERT

Arguments flare up at the right moment; problems are solved with implausible inevitability; people even die on schedule. The script, while good in some respects, lacks the sort of life (or theatrical life) that all films need and that the best actors, the brdt Brits particularly, always supply, and that they supply here.

END OF ALERT

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is still an often admirable show, and it’s especially laudable in its ambition to show us the kind of people too often marginalized in our own movies: old people, who often love movies and usually have time to watch them, yet remain a market unwisely untapped. That market is well-mined well here, by England‘s main resource, some of its glorious actors. So The Exotic Hotel is good, but it could have been better.

Oh well, Life could be better. And, come to think of it, there’s nothing wrong with a nice little comedy-drama.

One Response to “Wilmington on Movies: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”

  1. Gill Iltis says:

    I was tempted to see this, Michael, due solely to my heritage of course! Now that I’ve read your review I’m positively eager to….. Thanks. I also have to agree with your comments re: Julie Christie and Peter O’Toole – so much talent and so little screen time. Too bad.

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Wilmington

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“Let me try and be as direct as I possibly can with you on this. There was no relationship to repair. I didn’t intend for Harvey to buy and release The Immigrant – I thought it was a terrible idea. And I didn’t think he would want the film, and I didn’t think he would like the film. He bought the film without me knowing! He bought it from the equity people who raised the money for me in the States. And I told them it was a terrible idea, but I had no say over the matter. So they sold it to him without my say-so, and with me thinking it was a terrible idea. I was completely correct, but I couldn’t do anything about it. It was not my preference, it was not my choice, I did not want that to happen, I have no relationship with Harvey. So, it’s not like I repaired some relationship, then he screwed me again, and I’m an idiot for trusting him twice! Like I say, you try to distance yourself as much as possible from the immediate response to a movie. With The Immigrant I had final cut. So he knew he couldn’t make me change it. But he applied all the pressure he could, including shelving the film.”
James Gray

“I’m an unusual producer because I control the destiny of a lot of the films I’ve done. Most of them are in perfect states of restoration and preservation and distribution, and I aim to keep them in distribution. HanWay Films, which is my sales company, has a 500-film catalogue, which is looked after and tended like a garden. I’m still looking after my films in the catalogue and trying to get other people to look after their films, which we represent intellectually, to try to keep them alive. A film has to be run through a projector to be alive, unfortunately, and those electric shadows are few and far between now. It’s very hard to go and see films in a movie house. I was always involved with the sales and marketing of my films, right up from The Shout onwards. I’ve had good periods, but I also had a best period because the film business was in its best period then. You couldn’t make The Last Emperor today. You couldn’t make The Sheltering Sky today. You couldn’t make those films anymore as independent films. There are neither the resources nor the vision within the studios to go to them and say, “I want to make a film about China with no stars in it.”Then, twenty years ago, I thought, “OK, I’m going to sell my own films but I don’t want to make it my own sales company.” I wanted it to be for me but I wanted to make it open for every other producer, so they don’t feel that they make a film but I get the focus. So, it’s a company that is my business and I’m involved with running it in a certain way, but I’m not seen as a competitor with other people that use it. It’s used by lots of different producers apart from me. When I want to use it, however, it’s there for me and I suppose I’m planning to continue making all my films to be sold by HanWay. I don’t have to, but I do because it’s in my building and the marketing’s here, and I can do it like that. Often, it sounds like I’m being easy about things, but it’s much more difficult than it sounds. It’s just that I’ve been at it for a long time and there’s lots of fat and security around my business. I know how to make films, but it’s not easy—it’s become a very exacting life.”
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