Eric Forthun’s review:
It’s dangerous for a modern film to really have no distinguishable stars under 60, sell itself as a romantic comedy, and attempt to appeal to all ages. For those reasons, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel doesn’t necessarily work on many levels, as the film is rather inconsequential, but it’s also light-hearted, energetic when it has no reason to be, and filled with very good acting all-around. Nighy is the spotlight, bringing the perfect blend of comedy and drama when need be, and never feeling forced in a role that really could be; him and Dench play off each other wonderfully. The film attempts to balance too many themes and storylines to fully come together, as some elements feel a bit more predetermined and lackluster than others, but the ending is sufficient enough to warrant the two-plus-hour journey. It’s a minor film, that’s for sure, but it’s so sweet that we ultimately forgive how little the film actually gives us in terms of new material.
The film attempts to balance countless storylines, all of which revolve around a bunch of older Brits heading to India to rediscover themselves, to experience new forms of life, to rekindle lost love, or to just see where the journey takes them. The most compelling story of them all is one centering on Tom Wilkinson’s character, an unlikely one to be treated with such sophistication and nuance: he’s the gay lover looking for lost love, one that he had there more than forty years ago. He spends every day in India searching for this love, hoping he can find this man, and when he finally does and spends the day with him, it’s one of the happiest of his life. Shortly thereafter, he has a heart attack and passes away. That’s not necessarily a spoiler, and for that reason I’m discussing it. Something that poignant and sincere gets glazed over once he passes, and that’s the most troubling fact of all. The storytelling that occurs before his passing is quite triumphant, yet his passing demonstrates the somewhat incompetent approach to balancing so many stories.
Another that works is between Dench and Nighy. The latter is always strong, but his is arguably the best performance of the film, balancing so many different emotions and conveying them in both subtle and obvious ways. That’s my favorite type of acting; not entirely restrained, but enough that we can understand this character and see some of their complexities without it being spelled out. The strength, and then weakness, he embodies while talking with his wife about a potential divorce, is heartbreaking if only for the look on his face throughout. He’s embodying the type of emotion one would think a person would have in that situation, yet it doesn’t feel as if he’s simplifying it. Everything preceding it in both emotional context and narrative structure work for his story, making it not only the strongest of the bunch, but also the best. Sometimes a film doesn’t know where its strength lies; this one is perhaps a mixed bag, both acknowledging and missing its opportunities.
The storyline for Patel’s character, while showing quite a bit of potential, gets squandered by the attempt to mirror between two generations. Showing Patel’s love is strong, assured stuff, something that really doesn’t come across that often in many films, yet the unnecessary forge of his mother loving his father in the same way when they were kids is ridiculous; it’s nothing more than a storytelling ploy that adds nothing to the context of the film. Sure, we can see that the mother relates, yet her utter refusal to acknowledge their love goes against what she’s arguing. Frankly, it makes no sense. Same goes for Smith’s character’s transformation from an unhinged racist to an accepting, composed, and strong woman. There’s no clear path for her, nothing we can really understand as to how she came about those opinions. It’s a tad frustrating when a film does well with quite a few characters, yet also ignores the faults it’s putting forth for others in the process.
That being said, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was sufficient enough for me. I enjoyed enough of it to recommend it, even if that’s a very faint one, and I can’t see myself ever bragging about any of the elements. It’s nothing special, and the occasionally strong themes that arise don’t get enough address to fully understand their placement in the scope of the film. The acting all-around is particularly excellent, adding enough enjoyment to the film to realize that some of these characters just don’t commit actions that make sense. As a viewer, I couldn’t help but feel a bit lost as to how the screenplay could blatantly spell out unnecessary exposition for some characters, yet not address others that needed more depth. Overall, though, it’s a minor complaint for an enjoyable throwaway.