The best inoffensive film to watch with your parents
Yes, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is unchallenging and cliché-ridden. But this bittersweet retiree romp remains a delight.
When I manage to escape the university life of cheap drinks, hangovers and the occasional deadline, spending a few days at home comes as a welcome and civilised break from it all. As well the novelties of home-cooked food and unashamed abuse of the central heating, you can do things like go and see a film, safe in the knowledge that – after an evidently phony attempt at reaching for your wallet – the parents will pay.
But when it comes to choosing what film to see, it can often be tricky. While in the good old days, they usually had to bend to my will and to the limits of certification, now I’m 20 and tantrums aren’t quite as acceptable, it unfortunately has to be more of a compromise.
I didn’t go and see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel with my parents, but I rather wish I had. John Madden’s bittersweet retiree romp has enough light humour, class and vaguely affecting turns to make it a perfect choice. Needless to say, I’m certain mum and dad would have found this breezily bland film as inoffensively enjoyable as I did.
Essentially, it is a story full of corny Eat Pray Love soul-searching, with a rabble of wisened British sixtysomethings looking for a place to enjoy their autumn years. They’ve never met before, but the fates conspire to bring them together when they each come across an advert for the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which is described as a palatial retirement home for the ‘elderly and beautiful’ in the Indian city of Jaipur. Upon arrival, however, the punters find the promised palace in a pretty sorry state, much like themselves. The walls are crumbling, the phones don’t work and some of the rooms don’t even have a fully-functioning door. Swayed by the incurable optimism of the hapless young Indian hotel manager, Sonny (Dev Patel), and the fact that he wouldn’t be able to provide a refund any time soon, the fogies decide to make the most of it.
The seven main characters represent a concoction of late-in-life anxieties: There’s Graham (Tom Wilkinson), who comes to India in search of his lost love; Muriel (Maggie Smith), a bitter old woman hoping for a quick hip replacement; Norman (Ronald Pickup) and Madge (Celia Imrie), who are both sex-starved and lonely; Jean (Penelope Wilton) and Douglas (Bill Nighy), whose marriage is on its last, arthritic legs; and Evelyn (Judi Dench), a melancholy widow. Over the course of the film, they all come to terms with their respective baggage and find a new zest for life.
In the meantime, we are treated to a slew of decently funny culture-clash gags as the old dears struggle to adapt to their new home. There are scenes of curry-induced dicky tummies, perilous tuk-tuk rides and Norman turning to the Kama Sutra to get a few pointers. Counterweighted with a few more sombre scenes, the plot eases along rather nicely.
As is to be expected, the depiction of India is very much from the eye of the tourist. Rather than seeing the ravaged towns around Jaipur as scenes of destitution, the guests of the hotel reflect on their surroundings as a sea of smiles and colour. Such blatant cultural clichés pepper the film, but the character’s rose-tinted musings on the country just about fall short of being completely offensive.
Similarly, while the central characters play up to received and marketable British stereotypes, the performances remain cosily elegant. Wilkinson is effortlessly charming as the lovelorn judge, while Nighy ditches his usual slick and sleazy shtick and plays the role of the put-upon husband with surprising sincerity. It is Maggie Smith’s hilarious turn as a brazenly racist old biddy, however, that really steals the show.
Some films can make you laugh and make you cry, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel will probably just make you giggle infrequently and occasional sigh with sadness. It is a highly unchallenging piece of light entertainment, but a solid and agreeable film nonetheless. I look forward to watching it again, after my mum opens the DVD on Christmas Day.
Tom Slater is spiked’s film reviewer. Visit his blog here.
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