The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel John Madden
No matter how objective one tries to be when approaching a film for review, there are still going to be more than a few whose popularity seems baffling. What's less common though are the films whose success actually comes across as a personal affront, and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is one of those films. Not that it's any great surprise that the film proved to be both not to my tastes and also staggeringly successful; its account of British pensioners swanning off to India is clearly aimed at a “mature” audience, which I'm nowhere near close to joining yet (even if I might act like I am).
I'll try my best to refrain from using the “r” word in discussing director John Madden's (previously responsible for awards heavyweight Shakespeare In Love and...erm... Captain Corelli's Mandolin) portrayal of the country. For one it's been discussed in more than enough depth elsewhere, but also, it's a bit of a given that a film by and for the British/Westerners/mostly white will focus on that group at the expense of the natives. Plot-holes, such as how Dame Judi Dench's Evelyn unfortunately finds a wi-fi signal so she can inflict the most irritatingly clueless blog-based voice-over this side of the last Sex And The City movie can also be excused with the argument that it's all a bit of good-natured fluff.
The problem is is that it's not particularly good natured. It's all well and good saying that any film that targets the “neglected” older demographic should be applauded, but that doesn't make it true. American cinema might have an obsession with the teenage market, but British cinema has been going for the grey pound for years now, and surely The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel's USP of bringing together a group of wildly popular actors of a certain vintage, without giving any of them enough screen-time to shine, or even to create a convincing narrative, is just as cynical as anything in the Transformers movies.
There's a sense of a complete lack of effort on pretty much all fronts from script and direction, with the film dealing entirely in clichés (will the loveable senior citizens all come down with "hilarious" bouts of diarrhoea as soon as they encounter the local cuisine? Of course; Will a character die for no good reason, other than the fact that they're “old”? Sure; Will this death be accompanied with the most cloyingly faux-spiritual imagery imaginable? You bet!), to the performances, as most of the cast have just been cast in roles that trade on their established personas (Dench's mumsiness is in full flow, as is Bill Nighy's long-limbed bendiness and even Slumdog/Skin's Dev Patel's manic nerviness).
Perhaps what makes the whole thing worse is that, at its heart there are the germs of something really quite good, and perhaps even unique. Despite many of the cast just being there to make up the numbers, the odd couple try to at least do something, whether bad (Dame Maggie Smith may be capable of many things, but being believable as a cockney is not one of them) or good (Penelope Wilton turns in some heartbreaking work in an offensively underwritten role). If the filmmakers had had the courage to tone things down a bit, to create something smaller and let the audience meet them half-way, then they might have had something to be cherished. Specifically Tom Wilkinson's narrative, which feels like the obvious heart of the film (he's also, by far, the most appealing out of the cast) but gets unsatisfactorily brushed-off long before the end, could be the basis of genuinely affecting little gem of a film if all the “whacky” antics going on around him were ditched. If the financiers had demanded that he have another “National Treasure” to spark off then bringing in Dench's character as a travelling companion would have been fine (although preferably she'd relinquish the role to Wilton).
As it is though, what we're left with is a bloated monstrosity, that doesn't do any of cast or characters any favours by cramming so many of them in together. It might be seen as something pleasant and ultimately harmless but its success may well leave British cinema considerably worse-off in the long run.
Oh, and it actually is kind of racist too.