Thursday, February 21st, 2013

'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' Is My Favorite Movie Of 2012

"Everything will be all right in the end. So if it is not all right, it is not yet the end."

Some people think of that quote as belonging to Paulo Coelho. Others to John Lennon. A special few, however, know it as the oft-spoken adage of Sonny Patel, owner of a fictional hotel in Jaipur, India. As someone who believes The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel to be the best movie of 2012, the fact that I fall into the latter category should be no surprise. It should also be no surprise that many people choose not to believe that I'm serious about loving it as much as I do. Seeing and enjoying poorly reviewed movies is a hobby—or perhaps condition—of mine (I saw Safe Haven last weekend on my day off from work), so I don't have the best track record.

As the Oscars draw near, the next in a series about our strong movie opinions, past and present.

I'm aware that a movie about seven elderly Brits who move into an Indian hotel sounds like a red flag to many people, so I understand why you think I'm joking or perverse or wrong in liking The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel as much as I do. But I'm not. And it's my goal to make you believe me.

Though Oscar nominees for Best Picture are by no means a definitive list of a given year's best movies, the spotlight placed upon them during awards season provides the kind of widespread familiarity that should help with my upcoming comparisons.

Even though I loathed every speaksongy second of Les Mis and was genuinely shocked by just how generic Argo ended up being, if I were to replace a single Best Picture nominee with TBEMH, I'd go with Silver Linings Playbook. The two films have large casts filled with tremendously talented actors. They both have a similarly fence-hopping tone that juggles laughs and tears. They also share themes like starting over, growing old, moving on from former loves, dealing with new ones, and seeking a purpose in one's life. But! Silver Linings Playbook attempted to tackle all of the above by adding a rose-colored layer of super-cute mental illness to its lens, but mental illness isn't all that cute. With those constant violent outbursts, Bradley Cooper's Pat had no business being out of the hospital. He needed to get better. But Silver Linings Playbook had no intention of presenting characters who behave the way real people behave in situations where real people often find themselves. TBEMH did.

Earlier I described it as a movie about "seven elderly Brits who move into an Indian hotel." And because it's very easy for a movie that can be explained in so few words to create an equally simplistic final product, any of you who scoffed at the premise were entirely justified. It was adapted from a book I haven't read, but people I've talked to who have say the two works have little in common aside from my initial nine-word description. But the film adaptation, at least, deserves some spinning out. Something like: a movie about seven British citizens in their twilight years who, for a number of reasons including health care, squandered savings, past loves, and new ones, move to an Indian hotel to better their lives. Yes. That's better.

There is a humanity in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel that isn't evident in its marketing, or even its title. Both suggest a simple romp about nervous (and possibly xenophobic) Brits, but what we find instead is a thoughtful, funny, and occasionally profound story about getting older that doesn't patronize its audience or reduce its characters to stereotypes.

Evelyn (Judi Dench) is introduced while setting up her new internet service after the death of her husband have left the utilities in disarray. An old person being overwhelmed by new technology is an easy joke, but TBEMH treats her as someone confused but capable; and her phone conversation with an Indian customer service agent isn't used as a punchline, but as the beginning of a larger subplot. Evelyn gets a job (her first ever) as a consultant at an Indian call center in a series of scenes that both surprise us with their heart and impress us with their construction. Also, the death of M in Skyfall coupled with a TBEMH sequel in development means Judi Dench has found a new franchise to preside over.

She'll get to wear so much linen in this franchise.

Muriel (Maggie Smith) is the oldest and most crotchety of the bunch, having come to India because it was the cheapest and most immediate option for her hip surgery. She's an angry, intolerant old woman who, at the movie's start, finds India and its residents appalling, but she eventually changes her attitude. And though her eventual 180 is expected, it takes time. It's earned. TBEMH understands that we don't change at the drop of a hat or simply because it's the third act, and Muriel is given a reason to decide it's time to change.

Anne Hathaway could never make this face.

The only married couple in residence are Douglas and Jean (Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton), who came to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel after a bad investment left them with nothing but dreary, panic button-filled retirement options in London. Their marriage has devolved into a relationship filled with tension and devoid of love, and while Nighy and Wilton are arguably the film's most experienced comedic actors, they turn what could have easily been Archie and Edith into a heartbreaking and honest portrayal of a marriage that's run its course.

This is not a screencap from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Singles Madge and Norman (Celia Imrie and Ronald Pickup) are the horniest of the residents, deciding to leave England after feeling like they'd exhausted its pool of potential partners. Both are looking for sex and are outwardly confident about their prospects, but they have an unshakable, private fear of dying alone. Any movie can throw in a Viagra joke, but TBEMH turns what could have been an easy joke about that funny blue pill into something sweet and, to some extent, hopeful.

Can you handle how wonderful this is?

Even Sonny (Dev Patel), the owner of the hotel, gets a subplot. When his mother arrives unannounced, she makes her disapproval of his personal and professional choices loud and clear. And though it could have been written as a cliche-filled throwaway story about arranged marriages, it's given the time to become as satisfying as the others.

Dev Patel is in "The Newsroom." I hate "The Newsroom."

The final resident is Graham (Tom Wilkinson) and he's given the best subplot and you'll be in tears because Tom Wilkinson is perfect and that's all I'll say about him.

To me, he is perfect.

Perhaps it isn't hard to convince all of you that an octet of respected British thespians makes a movie worth watching, but I think the movie's setting may be holding you back. I've been asked on more than one occasion whether or not the film has a xenophobic or outright racist representation of India, and my answer is a very confident "No." This is a story could have been set in any place its central characters consider unfamiliar. Though the elderly Brits are initially overwhelmed by the cultural differences, the setting is never presented as backwards or undesirable. Though hesitant at first, everyone gets used to the food. To the transportation. To the customs. The residents of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel do their best to not only adapt to their surroundings, but to accept and find comfort in them.

Because not everyone in the movies goes abroad to eat, pray, and love for a holiday. Not everyone in the movies experiences something different only to return home and pat themselves on the back for surviving it all. The characters of TBEMH are in India to stay, and by the end it becomes their home.

So what do you think? Are you convinced? Are you willing to take a chance on Judi Dench? Maybe I was too complimentary. If so, I should ground it with some criticism. Here goes.

My one complaint with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is the inaccuracy of that saying, so allow me to offend Paulo, John, and Sonny by offering a revised version: Everything will be all right in the end. So if it is not all right, it's because it's the Oscars.

Previously in series: How Did 'Forrest Gump' Ever Beat Out 'Pulp Fiction' For Best Picture?

Bobby Finger will be rooting for Amour on Sunday. He will be disappointed.

24 Comments / Post A Comment

sunnyciegos (#551)

I am sputtering over here. It doesn't "patronize its audience or reduce its characters to stereotypes," except for oh I don't know, the whole of India, a country still emerging from the terrible legacy of colonialism, which this film so nicely and sweetly reifies? "Even Dev Patel" gets his own storyline, WHAT A TREAT FOR HIM.

@sunnyciegos Sure, India is "still emerging from a terrible legacy of colonialism," but I'd argue that the movie is about characters attempting to distance themselves from their past and change the trajectory of their future. As for "sweetly reifying" colonialism, the character who expects the India of her childhood ("One has read one's Kipling," she says gleefully) finds herself shocked and appalled by postcolonial India. She is ridiculed. She moves back to England. People like her exist, but the movie absolutely does not paint them in a good light. I wrote "Even Dev Patel" as a way of pointing out that a lesser movie would have simplified the Indian characters, not taken the time to give them identities. Dev is attempting to start his own business, his girlfriend is a University graduate employed at a call center, and they're both attempting to gain the respect of Dev's mother, a wealthy matriarch who is struggling to deal with a new India that has been in an almost constant state of flux since her youth. I didn't expect any of that after seeing the movie's promotional materials.

scrooge (#2,697)

@sunnyciegos I'm curious to know whether you've actually seen the film?

sunnyciegos (#551)

@bobby finger@twitter I can't even. The movie is about poor British people who raise their station by moving a former colony where they can re-enact colonialism by having brown people cater to their every need, becoming richer emotionally and financially (by comparison!) in the process. The brown people offer wisdom, adulation and comfort, their own poverty flattened into a gentle background matte. Dev Patel's character quoting "Your own Mr. Kipling" in order to make an old white person feel better made me want to set myself on fire.

I honestly expected to come back to this and realize that I'd been had by one of the Awl's classic "The problems of tone on the web" parodies. This movie is indefensible.

Louis Fyne (#2,066)

@sunnyciegos Bet you're fun at parties.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

@Louis Fyne A total downer at the five o'clock tea variety, for sure!

Danzig! (#5,318)

@sunnyciegos His role on The Newsroom is more substantial than this. Think about that.

bobby finger@twitter Sometime I'd like to see a film about Indian people that's not about intergenerational conflict / the inherent benevolence of globalization in the third world. Not that that's relevant, what with TBEMH not being about Indian people in any sense.

You know what? I'm gonna go watch Water, see you

stacytg (#240,454)

@sunnyciegos You want an Indian movie that isn't super kitshy post-colonial love story? A movie about real issues in India? Maybe Bollywood could do such a thing if they weren't so obsessed with making love stories where the plot is boy meets girl –? complications –> wedding.

americangurl (#241,917)

@Danzig! Have you seen Bride and Prejudice? It's not about any of those things. It's a remake of Pride and Prejudice, just Indian style.

Phil Koesterer (#2,708)

"Merriam-Webster defines 'movie' as 'a motion picture or a showing of a motion picture.'"

deepomega (#1,720)

If anyone ever used that "everything will be all right in the end" quote on me, I would karate chop them in the throat. Holy hell.

LokoOno (#240,586)

@deepomega I second that. And if they said "India, like anywhere else I suppose, is about what you bring to it" like Judi Dench does in the movie, I would convince the ghost of Edward Said to karate chop them a couple more times for good measure.

jackvanimpish (#145)

Yes! I love this movie! SO SO SO GOOD.

Mr. B (#10,093)

OK, I did enjoy this movie also, but it most definitely does not deserve any awards, except maybe that SAG ensemble thingy. This isn't so much a movie as a half-baked sitcom story idea; some British movie people were all, "OK! Let's make some movie magic!" as soon as they had the talent on board, but they forgot to make sure they had a finished screenplay.

The actors make the thin material work because, come on — Maggie Smith! Bill Nighy! Etc! They can make you believe any dialogue, no matter how dumb! But that last shot, of Bill Nighy and Judi Dench on a moped or something? They aren't even in character! It's just Bill Nighy doing something Nighy-y and making Judi Dench laugh!

macartney (#1,889)

I loved this movie too, but it's 2013 and I really thought we had moved passed "the homo dies" in cinema.

Danzig! (#5,318)

@macartney That's not fair, he gets to chastely hug his lost love!

I admit that the lead-up to that scene was pretty dramatic but once they actually met, the movie remembered what it was.

the death of M in Skyfall

Fucking Spoiler Alert!

s. (#775)

@Clarence Rosario Also, Skyfall was Bond's sled as a child.

dullhypothesis (#234,533)

@Clarence Rosario Cause it's not like that movie's been out for MONTHS.

@Clarence Rosario Totally. I was going to watch Skyfall this afternoon for the first time as well. Gutted!!! And it DIDN'T EVEN NEED TO BE IN THERE!!!!

BlackAndBlueMan (#239,791)

I thought 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' was a charming, delightful and very moving film. In lesser hands it could have turned into a huge schmaltzy bomb – but fortunately, it didn't.

Was it a trail-blazing awards-worthy film? I don't think it was – but it was very competently made, never dull and always engaging and involving.

Danzig! (#5,318)

I actually think that TBEMH is probably most similar to Lincoln, in that minority actors are everywhere and yet none of them are characters. TBEMH at least has the edge because some of the non-characters inhabit their own cartoon subplot from a bad teen movie. Also all the actors are great in that they're great actors, but not that in they are greatly acting. Dame JD does her best with the material she's given but everyone else is basically sleepwalking into award shows. An ensemble picture more middlebrow than TBEMH could not possibly be conceived of.

Speaking of which has anyone seen that spiritual sequel to TBEMH that's all about how you're never too old to be in a choir and rapping is just the kids' way of writing poetry? You know the one I'm talking about.

Also it sort of baffles me that anyone would think of the mental illness in SLP as charming. It seems to me that a lot of people are having that reaction because illness isn't treated the way it's usually treated in films, ie as an all-encompassing life ruining nightmare, and the sane(r) characters in the film don't treat the ill characters the way sane(r) people are supposed to treat ill people, with fear and disgust. It's a refreshing story in that the ill people have lives that they live outside of downward spiral episodes, and family and friends put up with them and even appear to love them (??) Plus it doesn't have Zach Galifianakis in it, which is a credit to any film. Christ, can you imagine how awful it would have been with ZG in the lead? Or Judd Apatow scripting? Or Aranofsky directing? It could have been such a pedestrian morass of a film.

I am opinionated today.

lilianstrauss (#241,871)

I think I love you.

shan7bulla (#241,839)

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