** (out of four)
Shame on 2-star movies for the indifference they cause. For the mild successes that quickly fade and for the flaws that could have been avoided with a simple change of procedure. For the fact that bad movies stir up some impassioned reaction. All a 2-star movie inspires is, “Eh.”
That’s the long way of saying that “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” a dramedy about a group of elderly British folks who retire to a not especially luxurious senior spot in India, unfolds with all of the expected highlights from its great cast and lowlights from its obvious-yet-contrived story. Based on the novel by Deborah Oggach, there’s grouchy racist Muriel (Maggie Smith) lamenting “brown faces and black hearts.” Norman (Ronald Pickup) falls asleep and off his chair, causing hotel manager Sonny (Dev Patel of “Slumdog Millionaire”) to believe Norman’s dead. Sight gags include reading the Kama Sutra and the amount of time spent in the bathroom, with other jokes about how difficult the local names and food are to pronounce.
The other side of the experience features the lovely interactions between Evelyn (Judi Dench), recently widowed after 40 years of marriage, and Douglas (Bill Nighy), clearly unhappy in his marriage and happy to meet someone new and friendlier than his wife (Penelope Wilton). If only director John Madden (“The Debt,” “Shakespeare in Love”) focused primarily on an excellent cast (also including Tom Wilkinson and Celia Imrie) exploring the hardships of feeling irrelevant in the sunset of their lives.
Too often “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” represents only a superficial portrait of Westerners discovering how charming and different this culture and its people are, with more attention paid to the newbies than the locals struggling to find happiness themselves. Though, rest assured, there’s still a scene in which Sonny’s girlfriend (Tena Desae) accidentally climbs naked into bed with Madge (Imrie), after which both Sonny and Sonny’s mom burst in. What a wild, wacky vacation indeed!
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