Friday, May 25, 2012

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

We live in a curious age of uncertainty and turmoil, be it economic, technological or environmental. After all this is 2012: the start of a hectic and finger-fetishistic  21st century and the end of the famous Mayan calendar.
Because of this anxiety, the Orientalist craze and specifically India, popularized by the Romantics Byron and Shelley and given further transcendent fire not so long ago by The Beatles in the 60s , has never been more popular in current cinema. We have applauded "Slumdog Millionaire" (2008)  and "Eat Pray Love"(2010). Our hunger for all things Hindu has been well founded and easy to understand. What better anodyne to our schizophrenic multitasking then the blissful color realms of India?

So we now arrive at  "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" another Indian journey of heart and hope for those young and old (and especially those, over 60). It is a pleasant, bittersweet and not so strange trip with all the British dames and dudes that you would expect and the film succeeds very well in spite of its warm and fuzzy, tea cosy denouement.

The film concerns a host of sirenian queen bees and poetic bachelors  gone heartsick or mad by the media. Evelyn (Judi Dench) is newly widowed and fed up with the automated age. The stentorian Mrs. Donnelly (Maggie Smith) is ill and needs a hip transplant. Graham (Tom Wilkinson) wants to go to India before it's too late, while Norman (Ronald Pickup) is searching for young flesh.

Suffice to say the gang's all here. I'll admit that when I saw the stellar cast sitting together at the airport or on the bus bracing for their dubious curries, I did think of an E.M. Forster version of "Sex in the City". The comparison couldn't be helped. Yet as the film goes on, it disarms you with well... a coziness.

While at first it is very much a travelogue of sorts with Mrs. Donnelly being unpleasantly xenophobic and nastily worrying over foreign foods and doctors, the film is refreshingly visual in its bright locales and bit by bit, we come to a real sense of place , of India as a vibration or a living creature  and not just a stage set. There is enough joy for the eyes here and while it might seem so much prismatic paneer, that is, real cheese on the subject of loneliness in foreign lands as the octogenarian clock goes Took-took-tock, the marigold fluff and foam and a "Let me go to England alone" manages a pathos.

This is most evident in the role of Graham, a shy but affable gay man who is haunted by adolescent ghosts. Graham is secretive and reserved, and the specters of sadness within him are elements of great vexation, with something of the apprehension of Thomas Mann's "Death in Venice".

We also get some Bollywood relief with the appearance of Slumdog Millionaire's Dev Patel who is hypertensive and nervous but joyfully existential and on the right track as a rollicking Romeo. Like a young Don Knotts from New Delhi, Patel entertains and enchants. His sputters of surprise show the humanity in the gesture of Slapstick. 

"The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" is a picaresque jaunt that will beguile with its easy charm. Its cast of playfully weary and altogether amiable adaptables in Ambrosia will win you over. The film might well be Shangri-La in Septuagenaria, but like the Beatles' "Yellow Submarine" it is a voyage where everyone fits together and happily receives the things most longed and wished for. 

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