Posted on 7/03/12 06:27 AM
For a long time now, I've had this little game I play with myself where I wonder if there's any country in the world with such a low cost of living that I could just quit my job and retire there right now. I add up my savings, consider my life expectancy, and announce to myself that I may have just moved up one notch from Zimbabwe to Bangladesh. Then I have a good laugh and go back to work.
"The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" is like a real life version of my retirement fantasy, but with people who are actually old enough and well off enough to make it happen. Lured by the prospect of being able to live out their lives in relative comfort, seven English retirees move to Jaipur, India to stay at a place called the Marigold Hotel, after seeing an ad on the internet promoting it as being for "the elderly and beautiful".
Each of the seven has his or her own reason for coming. Evelyn (Judi Dench) is a recent widow who was forced to sell her house to pay off her husband's debts. Graham (Tom Wilkinson) a retired lawyer who was raised in Jaipur and is returning to revisit his past. Muriel (Maggie Smith) is a crotchety old racist trying to circumvent a six month hip replacement queue back in England. Douglas and Jean just lost most of their savings to a poor investment. Madge is a hip grandma hoping to meet her next rich husband. Norman is a scraggly-looking bachelor hoping to meet any sort of woman at all.
The hotel itself turns out to be in a state of disrepair, having only recently been re-opened by its young proprietor, Sonny (the Slumdog kid), after having been previously run by his now-deceased father. Sonny is the sort of overly-exuberant, always-optimistic Indian stereotype who spouts cheerful clichés to defuse his new guests' misgivings and his own personal crises. In addition to his struggles to keep the hotel afloat, he's also in love with a call center girl whom his overbearing mother doesn't approve of.
The seven guests busy themselves trying to adapt to their new lives in India which, don't you know, is a lot noisier and more colorful than life in the UK, especially when almost every other scene takes place in a crowded outdoor marketplace. Some of the guests embrace the local culture; others reject it outright; Madge and Norman seem to ignore it completely and just continue with their respective quests to find new mates.
"Marigold Hotel" isn't a terrible movie, but with so many intertwined subplots, it's inevitable that some are going to be stronger than others. The whole business with Sonny, the girlfriend, and the disapproving mother is so hackneyed I was almost embarrassed to be watching it. I could've also done without the parts about creepy old Norman trying to get laid and poor pathetic Madge desperately trying to meet rich single men, but most of the other characters are a bit more interesting. Dench and Smith, in particular, are excellent in their roles. Too bad they're trapped in such a mediocre film. At 124 minutes long, surely there's a lot of room here for editing.
A glance around the crowded theater led me to believe that I was one of the few people in the audience who didn't get in with the senior citizen discount. And an appreciative audience they were, bursting into applause as the credits began rolling. It's easy to see why - this is a demographic that's usually ignored by moviemakers. And yet, still. Hearing those first few tentative post-film claps start to build into a crescendo never ceases to make me cringe. I don't care how much you liked the movie or how thankful you are that the studio made it. The actors...the director...the producers...none of them can hear you.
"Marigold Hotel" depicts a happy, sterilized India where locals treat visitors as special guests, no one ever hassles you or tries to rip you off, and poverty has apparently ceased to exist. Not quite the same India I've experienced, but as retirement fantasies go, it seems ideal.