Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

It Is Not Yet The End

There are only a handful of films featuring senior citizen characters that I enjoy, the top of the list being Cocoon, if only because these films usually have an extremely moving story about love, life and inevitably will touch on death, and better yet, has an ensemble cast of veteran actors well worth their weight in gold. Based on the novel titled These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel contains the same ingredients, and watching the cast here playing characters going about seeking a new life, is therapeutic, moving and tugging at your heartstrings.

It took a while for director John Madden to get everything up to speed, compartmentalizing all the characters here in their individual arcs and introducing each of their emotional baggage. There's Evelyn (Judi Dench) whose husband had recently passed away and leaving behind huge debts, Graham (Tom Wilkinson) the court judge who walked out of his profession with unfinished personal business abandoned in India during his growing up years, Muriel (Maggie Smith) a retired housekeeper no longer required by her household seeking cheaper surgical procedures in India, Madge (Celia Imrie) a gold digger looking for a wealthy husband, a counterpart of sorts in Norman (Ronald Pickup) looking for one night stands with any woman, and finally the couple Douglas (Bill Nighy) and Jean (Penelope Wilton) who lost their retirement savings when invested into their daughter's failed internet startup.

All of them got enticed by the plan to retire in India, which in many ways given the exchange rate, even some of us have been told to outsource our retirement to countries with a lower cost of living. So they pack up and leave, meet each other in planes and airports, before finding their way to the city of Jaipur where they stayed in the titular hotel, a property that had seen better days, now run by the proprietor's son Sonny (Dev Patel) who is adamant in bringing the hotel back to its glory days. But for now it's time for his new visitors to get acquainted with living together under the same run down conditions, and experiencing the new sights and sounds that Jaipur has to offer, for them and for us the audience.

Madden and of course Moggach's story is the quintessential ode to a romanticized India as a destination, where there is immense beauty from the chaos, and lessons to be learnt from its citizen. The country and the city present opportunities for anyone to learn more about oneself, and it is here in this new environment that the stories - feel good, moving, tragic and the likes, all get set to reveal themselves, and with an ensemble there are many tales to be told, with Evelyn finding new purpose imparting knowledge in a call center, Graham finding it an uphill task to track someone he once knew, Madge and Norman forming a bond of sorts in their common quest to look for potential pick ups in the same societal places, Muriel learning to overcome her racial prejudices, and the cracks between Douglas and Jean begin to rear their ugly heads, with the former finding himself drawn toward Evelyn and the latter toward Graham. It's extremely multi-dimensional in the development of these characters, and we grow to like even the most negative of the lot since the characters become real and never for once felt contrived, sharing similar anxieties, fears, optimism and hope.

As these relationships and friendships develop, we also have Dev Patel's Sonny romancing a call centre employee Sunaina (Tena Desae), much to the objection of Sonny's mother who is determined that he marries someone else that is arranged, rather than to go on a love marriage. It's the typical clash of the expectations between the older and current generation that one would already have seen in various Bollywood films, rehashing certain themes that are staple in those films. And through Sonny and the other characters, themes like living the dream, staying fearless despite failure, to understand and empathise with others, and not to judge any book by its cover, come to encompass the narrative, making the movie one that has pretty good messages delivered under the auspices of a feel good film.

If given an opportunity, I too would like to embark on that soul searching trip to India, and seek out similar experiences staying in an equivalent of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Highly recommended!

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