Friday, 23 March 2012

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel


The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel UK 2012
Directed by John Madden
Playing at UK cinemas now

This is not really a movie I was that interested in going to see, if truth be told.

I’d seen the trailer and marvelled at the obviously very strong and excellent cast of British National Treasures involved and, though a movie starring such stalwarts would, inevitably, be well performed... well, the trailer was just cut together with so many humorous clichés that, I have to say, the movie didn’t really hold any real interest for me.


Two young ladies of my acquaintance took it upon themselves to invite me to go with them on a cinema trip and so I found myself traipsing off to my local fleapit in pursuit of the treasures of India with some charming company and never once a grumble for me. I’m glad I did because, although the movie is certainly both well performed and cliché ridden, as expected, the whole thing is put together with a certain underlying intelligence that ultimately makes such things not just bearable but a pleasure to watch. There is a certain amount of sheer artistry in this movie... and not just in front of the camera either.

Based on the novel These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach, it’s not a film I can hold up in comparison with that original novel because, I’m sorry to say, I’ve not actually read it. So whether or not this movie retains something of the spirit of the source material in any way, shape or form is not something you’ll be able to glean from this review I’m afraid.

I’ve also not seen any previous films by director John Madden either (although I think his wife used to teach me graphic design at one point), so I’ve got no frame of reference to be able to tell you whether any key stylistic elements of his previous body of work are on hand in a blatant manner to add weight to this work in the context of a larger strand of cinematic art. I can only look at this movie in the context of a pleasant night at the cinema and leave it there.

So, okay then, the film deals with a group of older, but not in all cases wiser, people who I might, in all political correctness, refer to as either “Senior Citizens” or “ladies and gentlemen in their twilight years”. The main characters are introduced singly (with the exception of one “couple”), via subtitled names on the screen, in individual scenes which give the audience a quick flavour of their character and the reasons why they have all decided to travel to the place named in the title, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in India. Yes, this visual dramatis personae is composed of a mixture of movie stereotypes of older people we’ve all seen before, but there’s really nothing wrong with that and although these characters all stand on these stereotypes for a little way into their personal “inner journeys” in this movie, the majority (but not all of them) do manage to shake off the shackles of their well worn and familiarly written character crutches and develop and grow into a group of people that you do feel for and take interest in through the course of the running time.

The actual movie credits don’t kick in until our characters are first seen assembling together, in a line of chairs awaiting their flight to India, at the airport. Tom Wilkinson’s character, who is returning to India after an absence of 40 years and who has a corker of a back story I won’t reveal here, is the self-assured, confident one of the group who, since he at least can speak the language, kind of becomes the leader of this less than close knit community. A community which includes amongst its members... a hen pecked but loyal man and his “dragon by stealth” wife, a sex hunting gentleman and a bigoted xenophobe who makes good in the end (this last character played by Maggie Smith is a bit of a surprise turnaround and becomes almost the most influential character in the whole piece)... a bunch of hackneyed stereotypes to be sure but with such fine actors as Judy Dench, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton and so on in the cast, and with a screenplay that never really manages to put a foot wrong, life is breathed into these templates which will, as I pointed out before, leave you caring, crying and laughing with the characters as their stories play out.

I won’t give away too much of the plot as a) there really isn’t much of one and b) it’s not really a film about plot anyway... it’s about the little moments shared between people that become bigger things. What I will say, though, is that the framing of the shots and especially the movement of the camera are extremely well paced, edited and, dare I say, designed to both not show their hand, unless under scrutiny, or in any way jolt the viewer from being totally encapsulated in the film.

Long motion shots (often establishing shots) blend fluidly with static frames or slower shots, which in turn are intercut occasionally with hand held camera shots which perfectly pitch the hustle and bustle of the streets of India without actually dropping you out of the movie. I especially enjoyed a long sideways panning establishing shot at a fair speed which then cut into a static shot of a mobile phone jumping around on a desk (in vibration mode) which was, as a result of this, travelling from the right to the left of the shot at a similar speed to the previous shot, thus blending almost seamlessly with the design of the sequence without, I would guess, much viewer awareness (yeah, alright, I was aware of it but the person I was sitting next to wasn’t... I checked afterwards). There was some good “working director” stuff here, but so well polished at a technical level that everything melded to make an almost perfect viewing experience... and that probably helped a lot when it came to smoothing over some of the edits and retaining believability of the characters, especially in the opening 20 minutes or so.

So that’s about it then... if truth be told, this is probably not a DVD I’d buy for myself to watch again (although I might pick up a copy for a close family member when it gets released), but I would still thoroughly recommend this one if you want a priceless and moving experience at the cinema. There’s not a great deal of truly “nice” movies being made right now but this one is so slickly “nice” that it really does deserve to be seen. There’s a good, moral heart beating at the centre of this movie... and you can’t really ask a whole lot more than that.

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