Wednesday, January 2, 2013

John Madden | The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

everything will be all right
by Douglas Messerli

Ol Parker (screenplay, based on a novel by Deborah Moggach), John Madden (director) The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel / 2011, USA 2012

Madden's feel good film, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, is an affable work in which a group of aging adults suddenly are forced to come to terms with where they are in their lives. After years of a docile life as a housewife, Evelyn Greenslade's (Judi Dench) husband has died, and, much to her surprise, finds there is not enough money for their debts. Selling their home, she is forced to awaken from her kind of "sleeping beauty" life and determine her own future.  Douglas Ainslie (Bill Nighly) and his wife Jean (Penelope Wilton) also find themselves in the unfortunate position of not having enough savings after investing in their daughter's failing internet company. Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith), we discover later, has simply been let go after years of service as house-keeper for a wealthy couple; she also needs, and cannot afford, a hip replacement. Norman Cousins (Ronald Pickup) is an aging would-be lover, studying the Karma Sutra and Madge Hardcastle (Celia Imrie) is a well-off woman on the search for a man.  Graham Dashwood (Tim Wilkinson), a high court judge, suddenly resigns, deciding to retire. This unlikely group inexplicably find themselves in Jaipur, northern India, attracted by a brochure for a retirement hotel that looks little, in person, like the pictures represented in the folder.        

    The plot is fairly predictable. Each member of the group must come to terms with something that he or she has not been facing or has hidden from others. Evelyn, forced to find employment, must learn to become self-dependent and face the fact that she has, once more, fallen in love, this time with the equally self-dependent but martially unhappy Douglas. His wife must come to terms with her own sour personality and her inability to face any change. Muriel must reflect upon her own bigotry and narrowness of vision. Norman must deal with his aging body, and Madge with the fact that she may find no one to love. Graham, soon reveals that he is gay, and has returned to India for the first time since his youth, when he was in love with an Indian man whose life was shamed when the two were found together.

     Writer Ol Parker (basing his script on Deborah Moggach's novel) adds to this potpourri the young Indian manager of the hotel, Sonny Kapur (Dev Patel), a charming and well-meaning entrepreneur who unfortunately is incapable of hotel management and, more to the point, a failure in life, refusing to even admit his love for the beautiful Indian girl Sunaina (Tena Desae).

     Each of these characters is destined, in the chaotic, colorful, and almost claustrophobic atmosphere of the city, to rub up against precisely that which they are refusing to face. And one by one, although some more slowly than the others, come to terms with their radically new lives. Perhaps only the unpleasant Jean, who is also the only one who returns home, refuses the challenge of the often frightening but just as often exhilarating world into which they have suddenly discovered themselves. But then she does come to recognize that she is a veteran complainer, unhappy with everything in life.

     These various psychological and physical encounters is perhaps enough for anyone to describe this film as highly enjoyable. Yet it is just the clichés and even stereotypes of their confrontations that weaken the work overall. Evelyn, perhaps the most passive of these figures for most of her life, finds that she is remarkably resilient, able not only to cope but to prevail over the most complex of situations, including her new job and her budding love. She is, in short, just the kind of independent, open-minded woman that Judi Dench loves to play. So too is Muriel the close minded, sharp tongued figure who Maggie Smith has spent a career portraying. Of course, she gradually comes round to liking the subcontinent and its people that she so strongly dismissed. But it is difficult, despite her aptitude for organizing things, to imagine, at film's end, that she has become this decaying hotel's manager, sustaining the likeable Sonny by allowing him to radiate his faith in future life. As he beamingly proffers early in the film: "Everything will be all right in the end...if it's not all right then it's not the end."

      Obviously Graham will reconnoiter with his former lover, now married, with whom he spends a pleasant day. But the fact that the plot requires that he suddenly die—while he has told everyone that he gay, he has not told anyone that he has a heart condition—strikes me as a kind retribution for his young abandonment of love. Traditionally, the sinner (the sexual deviant, often gay) must pay with his or her life.

     With Evelyn and Muriel's help Sonny stands up to his dominant mother and announces his love to everyone. Norman gets his woman and, for a least for a few seconds—when Sunaina, thinking Sonny is waiting in the bed, crawls in with her—Madge gets her heart fluttering again.

     So you see, if you can't go home, at least you can start your life over. Too bad these stage types seldom exist in "real" life and that everyday living remains as confusing as a Jaipur street scene.

Los Angeles, June 18, 2012

1 comment:

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