How often do you see a film made specifically for old people? It just doesn’t happen that often. The elderly are an untapped market for movie studios. There’s an obvious reason why; it’s not like they’re going to be around for much longer. But The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel does not care. It unashamedly courts the over 65 market just as Transformers courts teenage boys and Sex and the City courts women in general. But when your film is about a bunch of old English people deciding to see out their final years in an Indian hotel, what other choice have you got?
We see some much loved British thesps go from grey, boring old Britannia, to sunny, colourfulIndia. They find that old dogs can learn new tricks and that Indian people are lovely and various other life lessons you wouldn’t expect of old folks. Jolly good.
Over 65? Feel the icy grip of the Grim Reaper closing in? Get the fuck over toIndia!
Marigold Hotel has its moments. And with a cast that includes Judi Dench, Bill Nighy and Tom Wilkinson, you are already won over before the opening credits end. It is good natured and mildly entertaining. But that’s where it ends.
The first problem that arises, and that pecks away for the whole film, is that some of the characters aren’t particularly old. Nighy and his on-screen wife Penelope Wilton are 62 and 65 respectively. When we meet them they are considering moving to an apartment for the elderly and infirm. It makes no sense. When your film is about old people moving to India, make sure your old people are, well, old. That may be nit-picking, but it’s things like that which can take you out of a film.
Bill Nighy: Not Old
It doesn’t take long for the first bit of toilet humour (that Indian food goes right through you, blah blah blah…). Maggie Smith’s character is also more than a bit racist, which we learn the second we meet her. So it makes perfect sense for her to move to India. Much of the humour is derived from her reactions to being spoken to by Indian people, being close to Indian people, or talking about Indian people. It’s not racist; it’s lazy. And the entire time, you know just where it is going.
Movie executive: “Let’s make a movie inIndia! With a bunch of old people! And get that Slumdog kid!”
The sub-plot about Dev Patel’s character and his lovely girlfriend and his mother’s contempt for said girlfriend feels like some weak attempt to amuse a younger crowd. It fails. It plays out like an after-thought. The only thing that keeps it together is Patel’s ability to pull off the “lovable rogue” act.
A bit of light-hearted fluff with moments of drama. Even with the juxtaposition of the older lead characters, it hits many of the same beats as your usual rom-com. Watch only if you are retired.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever Maggie Smith does anything remotely racist
Take a Drink: whenever someone makes a reference to age
Take a Drink: when anyone says how lovely/horrible India is