Seven Old Age Pensioners board a plane from England to India in the last-chance-at-love travelogue The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. I'd call it "Eat Gray Love," myself, but that's why I don't work in marketing.
Part of the joke of this comedy-drama—ably directed by John Madden (Shakespeare in Love)—is that the title isn't entirely truth in advertising. The brochure advertising The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly & Beautiful turns out to be a beneficiary of Photoshop. Rundown and lacking in certain amenities (like working phones and, in the case of one room, a door), the retirement spot isn't the best or fresh as a marigold, but it is a hotel and exotic, and at any rate, there's no turning back for the strangers who become the place's first guests.
As adapted by Ol Parker from Deborah Moggach's novel These Foolish Things, the film has more story than it can seat comfortably, but the actors paint in the crudely sketched characters. Judi Dench makes for an entirely loveable leading lady, heading up the ensemble and narrating the picture as Evelyn, recently widowed but unwilling to be patronized by her children. She's joined by a retired High Court Judge named Graham (Tom Wilkinson), bitter racist Muriel (Maggie Smith), uncomfortable couple Douglas and Jean (Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton, who also played marrieds in Shaun of the Dead), take-charge gal Madge (Celia Imrie) and randy Norman (Ronald Pickup).
Though the picture cozies up to plenty of clichés, it has this going for it: the course of the film's romances isn't immediately apparent (partly owing to one character being a closeted homosexual "nowadays more in theory than in practice"). The conclusions may not all be foregone, but more than once we're instructed, "Everything will be alright in the end. And if it is not alright, it is not yet the end." So while the characters fret and stew, the audience can rest assured that any tragedy will just be passing through this comedy.
The story comes down firmly on the side of plucky (Luddite Evelyn determinedly starts a blog and begins a new career coaching telemarketers) and against sour sticks-in-the-mud (Jean's self-defeating pessimism about "the climate, the squalor, the poverty"). Of course, Muriel learns that India isn't just "brown faces and black arts—reeking of curry," so much so that she becomes instrumental in saving the day for the hotel's young and in-over-his-head proprietor Sonny (Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire).
Young and old all get some sort of romantic or sexual action, but more broadly the message is to "seize the gray"—err, day—in any way possible. Just by agreeing to make the leap to India, the heroes are all winners, and each in his or her way commits to further steps forward, illustrating Dench's voiceover conclusion "All we know about the future is that it will be different." Each plot seems underserved (despite the two-hour running time) and the whole enterprise too platitudinous, but with powerhouse actors like Dench, Nighy and Wilkinson, even a critic can agree it's better to be plucky than a sour stick-in-the-mud.
[This review first appeared in Palo Alto Weekly.]
Fox does a bang-up job bringing The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel to Blu-ray. The hi-def transfer handily recreates the film's theatrical appearance, leaving grain intact and conveying a well-resolved, nicely detailed image. Rich colors and proper contrast both give a vivid impression for an all-around handsome image. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix is likewise entirely up to its task: full-bodied music never compromises dialogue, which remains clear and present at the forefront of the mix; the mix also takes great advantage of excellent opportunities for urban ambience, the sound playing a key role in establishing the setting's exoticism to the characters.
Bonus features are as paltry as the amenities at the story's hotel; one might have expected at least a commentary track from director John Madden, who I'm sure would be game for it. Instead we get bite-sized featurettes affording nothing in the way of depth or breadth. "Behind the Story: Lights, Colors and Smiles" (2:34, HD) mixes a few Madden sound bites with film clips. "Casting Legends" (3:55, HD) offers a swift overview of the ensemble. "Welcome to the 'Real' Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" (2:55, HD) briefly (though intriguingly) highlights the film's central location. "Trekking to India: 'Life is Never the Same'" (2:45, HD) serves up a few other stray thoughts about location shooting in India, while "Tuk Tuk Travels" (1:26, HD) hones in specifically on that mode of transport.
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