By Brian L. Martin
When I think of aging British thespians, the first person I think of, without fail, is Helen Mirren. A fine actress in her own right, she also benefits from, like the finest of wines, getting better with age. And I’m not just talking about her acting. She is, beyond a doubt, a GMILF of the highest order. So you’d think, considering that The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a movie about geriatric romance, the producers of the movie would have gone out of their way to cast the fetching Mirren. And yet, inexplicably, she does not have anything to do with the film.
At the screening of Marigold Hotel I attended, our gracious host gave the packed theater the usual pre-screening talk (no cell phones, recording devices, etc). Then she informed us that the film’s running time was “just over two hours,” which must have been barely over the viewing threshold of at least a quarter of the people in attendance, because a collective groan rumbled amongst the crowd at this revelation. Imagine the groan I would have uttered had she also informed me that Helen Mirren was not going to be appearing at any point during the course of the movie.
Despite the lack of Mrs. (Ms.? Does one dare hope???) Mirren, and the fact that people young enough not to qualify for a free coffee at Wendy’s are clearly not the film’s target audience, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is an enjoyable, exuberant rumination on love and overcoming the urge to let the impending end of one’s life be an excuse to stop living. It also manages to do this without being overly sappy or manipulative, a crutch most films in the “old people are going to die, but we can still make it hilarious” genre tend to lean on with unbridled consistency (I’m looking at YOU, Bucket List!).
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (the full title of which seems to be The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful…again, bold claim with no Helen Mirren…) is, despite all the British actors in it, a film so Indian you can practically smell the curry. Seven retirees discover a newly-renovated hotel in faraway India, and they make a journey that is as introspective as it is…uh…outrospective? As Dev Patel’s character astutely observes, the hotel is all about the grand tradition of outsourcing (old people, in this case) because, as it turns out, “many nations want to get rid of their elderly, not just Britain.” Sure the hotel’s a little bit of a “fixer-upper” (much like the characters in the film), but the youthful manager, played by Slumdog Millionaire and The Last Airbender star Patel, is determined to keep his dream (which was, incidentally, the dream of his father) alive. That Patel’s age makes him an outlier in this cast doesn’t mean that he, too, can’t learn a lesson or two about life during the course of the movie. (His lesson: if you’ve got a MAD HOT girlfriend, LOCK THAT DOWN, no matter WHAT your mom says.)
The film’s opening sequence reminded me, oddly enough, of The Avengers (and not just because I’ve been debating going to see it again all week). The cast assembles quickly in a rapid succession of intercut scenes, and everyone brings a unique set of skills to the table. You’ve got Dame Judi Dench as the recently widowed head of British Intelligence (wait, maybe she wasn’t playing “M” in this movie…), Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton as a quarrelling couple on the brink of their 40th anniversary, Celia Imrie as a single lady looking to get her groove back, Ronald Pickup as the token crazy old guy (the “wild card,” if you will) who you’ll probably be convinced is going to die first, Maggie Smith as a wheelchair-bound (or IS she???) racist, and Tom Wilkinson as a man harboring a haunting secret (SPOILER: it’s that he’s too sensitive…WINK WINK). With all that talent, I’m almost surprised this group didn’t try to rob a bank. Or at least haggle a street vendor (successfully).
The cast is engaging, funny, and they deliver heartfelt performances that audiences will connect with regardless of how old they are. Nighy showcases his typical quirky, hilarious tendencies and mannerisms, although they are a little more subdued here than usual. Wilkinson is spectacular and offers one of the film’s quietest yet emotionally resonant moments. Patel once again demonstrates why he’s one of cinema’s “go-to” guys when it comes to running around and being Indian (seriously, the guy runs a lot, like the Bollywood Tom Cruise). And, let’s face it, Dench is good in anything.
Perhaps the film’s greatest strength is that everything in the trailer happens within the first half of the movie, leaving the second half twisting and unpredictable as we ask ourselves, “So, really, who IS going to die first?” The answer to this question (and, seriously, you KNEW there would be an answer to this question) will shock you! I’m not even kidding! It’s the last person you’d expect. Well…no, it’s not Dev Patel. So it’s the second to last person you’d expect.
Exactly why Helen Mirren does not appear in this film is a conundrum which will vex me until the end of my days. As consolation, I can only hope those latter years of befuddlement are spent in an establishment like the film’s titular hotel, where I might eke out a refreshing look on life and maybe, just maybe, live my final days surrounded by people who can help me take my mind off of such things.
SHOULD YOU GO SEE IT?: Check your pulse. Is it faint, but still beating? Then THIS is the movie for you! Nah, seriously, the movie is good.
WILL NICOLE LIKE IT?: Bill Nighy plus a shirtless guy equals a win. Granted, the shirtless guy is like 80 and looks like a hobo, but, eh, you take what you can get. (See? The movie’s message wasn’t lost on me!)
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