Monday, February 27, 2012

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - A Review

It's not a genre of film that I'd usually think too hard about watching from its trailer alone: there were no car chases, spaceships, shootouts, aliens, flux capacitors, Natalie Portmans or orbital slingshot manoeuvres even hinted at. What did attract me, though, was one more thing that I like in a movie: dry British wit.

The premise of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is this: a bunch of previously unconnected old people, including Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton*, Maggie Smith and Judi Dench **, find themselves, after various personal misfortunes, leaving their British lives behind and hightailing it to Jaipur's Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful. Far from the paradise depicted in the brochure, it's a ramshackle ruin with inept but infinitely positive and lovable Sonny (Dev Patel) working in vain to resurrect his father's dream. The bunch, along with Sonny, share experiences that change their views of the world in ways that none of them could have predicted.

The film contains a stream of expertly delivered lines with the comic timing that we've come to expect from the likes of Bill Nighy, and if I had to pick just one genre to fit the film into, it'd be comedy. It's funny from start to finish, with the audience regularly laughing out loud and a refreshing feeling that all the funny bits hadn't been in the trailer. But it's not just funny: each character has their own storyline, their own reason for leaving their life behind. Each of these storylines is compelling and unique, and the characters themselves are wonderfully three-dimensional without the need for silly glasses to see them as such.

Best Exotic explores such themes as homosexuality, casual racism, old-age, death (both of people and of relationships), love and Delhi-belly with maturity and subtlety, and these themes neither detract from nor are hindered by the movie's comedic streak.

A number of my favourite films are British, and this is a shining example of the British film industry doing what it does best: intelligent, funny, emotional and completely watchable comedy drama. It's a reminder that a film can be funny without slapstick; that it can explore edgy topics without shoving them in your face. This one, in my opinion, is a keeper, and may well be the best British movie in quite a while.

* These first two in, essentially, the same roles they played in Sean of the Dead. Well, they're married, at least.
** I struggle to think of this lot as old people even if, according to the figures, they are.