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Movie Review, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

EdgeLeft: Movie Review, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

by David McReynolds

Submitted to Portside by the author
May 28, 2012

Let me quote from the first lines of the Wikipedia summary: "A
group of seven British retirees have outsourced their
retirement, attracted by the less expensive and seemingly
exotic India". The retirees are a cast of Judi Dench, Bill
Nighy, Dev Patel (who starred in Slumdog Millionaire), Celia
Imbrie, Ronald Pickup, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, and
Penelope Wilton. (Incidentally, apropos of nothing - how often
have you done what I just did, write a piece, start to proof
it before sending, and find you hit the wrong key and have
deleted it all and must start again?).

I went because I would go to any film that had  Maggie Smith,
Judi Dench and Bill Nighy. I went despite the fact the film
opened to mixed reviews. The New York Daily News sniffed at
"John Madden's disappointingly shallow comedy . . ." and gave
it a mere two stars.

The Daily News missed the point. Here are a group of
characters well past their sell-by date, being told by Sonny
(Dev Patel), the enthusiastic part owner of the hotel, that
"if everything is not alright, it is because it isn't the end.
In the end, everything will be alright". The British travelers
find the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is not quite what it had
seemed on the internet. Not all the rooms have doors. Some
have insects. One room has birds. The telephones do not work.
Sonny, in his enthusiasm, assures everyone that all will be
well, phones will ring, doors will be found.

The travelers are not well off - Evelyn (Judi Dench) has had
to sell her home in England to pay off the debts of her late
husband and has to hunt for work in India. Muriel (Maggie
Smith) is a retired housekeeper with deeply racist views who
has come to India for an inexpensive hip replacement.  Jean
(Penelope Wilton) and Douglas (Bill Nighy) are a retired
couple who lost their life savings investing in their
daughter's internet start-up. One of the more interesting
characters is Graham (Tom Wilkinson), a retired high court
judge who had grown up in India as a child, but returned to
Britain. He is now trying to find a man with whom he had an
intense relationship in his youth. He is not sure if the man
is even alive or, if he finds him, if he will be welcomed -
the relationship had caused a scandal in the distant past.

I identified with Graham, since I had been in love with a High
School friend - before I even knew what love was. We were
close but at the point I told him I was homosexual the
relationship ended and I've wondered - it is more than sixty
years now - what happened with his life. He became a lawyer. I
assume married and had children and grand children. I still
think back to him as a hero. When, in 1949 I returned by bus
from New York to Los Angeles, taking the deep Southern route
(having heard Bayard Rustin speak of his chain gang
experience), I had tried sitting in the colored section and
when, in Louisiana, I was ordered by the bus driver to move to
the white section, I was sure  my High School friend would
have handled it more courage than I.

I remember India from my one visit, in 1986, for a Triennial
of the War Resisters International. We landed in Mumbai (then
still called Bombay) and took the train to a Gandhi Ashram,
which impressed me greatly. But while I was grateful to the
Indian family in Mumbai which housed Myrtle Solomon and me
after the Triennial, I was horrified by the poverty,  the
beggars,  the dust,  and by the fact the water was never safe
to drink. In that sense I sympathized with the one member of
the group who, nearly mad from the dust and chaos, returned to
England.

But for the others, one by one, they found in this strange
land, so chaotic, crowded, noisy, filled with life and color,
something they had missed in  England. Bill Nighy's character
falls in love with the city, setting out each day to explore
the temples. Muriel (Maggie Smith) grudgingly comes to admit
the Indian doctors did a fine job and, despite her racist
views, has something of a breakthrough encounter with the
untouchable cleaning woman at the hotel.

There is one "true" love story, when Sonny (Dev Patel) falls
madly in love with the beautiful Sunaina who works at the call
centre (one of those places we reach when we call our computer
or telephone company for information). He defies his mother to
announce they will be married. And it is the Maggie Smith
character who saves the hotel when she takes charge of the
accounts, finds the hotel is not a losing proposition but just
needs a competent book keeper, a post which she suggests she
should take on.

So in the end the telephones work, and the guests, who had
been so tentative in their first encounters with India, accept
it as part of their lives. What is fascinating about the film
is that we are not talking about young people discovering a
new adventure, but a group, all past sixty, some past seventy
and still counting, which finds that there are always new
beginnings.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a delight. Even, I suspect,
for those of you under fifty.

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