(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: Seven English retirees come to a retirement hotel in Jaipur, India, most unprepared for the culture differences good and bad that await them. Their five or six different intertwined storylines tell stories of past love, present love, humor, and pathos. Perhaps only one of the stories rises above cliche, but they are all told well with the total being more than the sum of the parts making for a satisfying and even touching experience. And these seven British actors would make a powerhouse cast for any film. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

In Agra when I got off the plane there was a man waiting there who asked me was I Mr. Sakajima. There was a flood of cab drivers who would not let me go, each hoping to get me into his cab. On a later pedicab ride I was kidnapped and taken not to my stated destination but shopping instead so the driver could get a rake-off from the shop owner. In New Delhi the same incident happened two days in a row. A small boy would throw moist cow dung on my wife's shoes and each time a man came up to her to tell her that a local shoemaker would happily clean her shoes for a very modest price. On national television on morning we watched as an expert demonstrated cleaning his system by drinking water and vomiting it into a bucket. Even in the 1990s India was another world with surprisingly little of Western culture. With so many Indians it had too much cultural inertia to pick up much of Western ways of doing things. Most Westerners who come to India end up with no small degree of culture shock. That is probably inevitable. Different people will handle it differently. In THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL we have a story seven different Brits each adapting in his or her own way to the cultural tidal wave that is India.

A fairly common film plot has someone from either the United States or Britain going to some place that has an exotic and unfamiliar culture. Little by little the stranger is won over by the differences and learns to love it, even wanting to remain a part of it. Bill Forsyth's LOCAL HERO sets the story in Scotland. John Jeffcoat told much the same story set in India in OUTSOURCED. THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL tells the same story multiple times as seven elderly English people coming to Jaipur at the same time. It seems British money goes a very long way in Jaipur, and that is the attraction for seven Brits who come in answer to an ad promising beautiful grounds for a retirement hotel. In this way the film can show seven different ways people might react to the alien world that is India. Among the seven one finds a widow needing to survive on what little her husband left her (Judi Dench), an anti- Indian bigot hoping to find a cheap hip replacement but not sure she trusts Indian medicine or Indians in general (Maggie Smith), a couple who lost their nest egg investing in their daughter's startup (Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton), an executive trying to deal with unfinished business from his past (Tom Wilkinson), and two others each hoping to meet a mate. Those seven by themselves constitute a very impressive cast.

Frequently it is said of a film that the setting becomes like a character of the film. In this case the setting is powerful enough to be at least two major characters. There is not really time for the film to tell any of its stories in more detail than perfunctorily. The characters who hold our interest the most are probably Tom Wilkinson's Graham and Dev Patel's owner-manager. Dev Patel will be familiar from SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. Deborah Moggach's novel and Ol Parker's screenplay seem to try to present India as a troubled and at the same time wonderful place. It is, but the filmmakers left out or glossed over a lot of the rough edges. What it gives is not at all a view of life in India for any but a very lucky few. But if director John Madden's film minimizes some of the negatives of Indian culture, it also understates the wonder that is India.

This film is fluffy, but it is absolutely guaranteed to have good actors doing what they do well (and not to have one single superhero). The stories are not demanding, but they are pleasant and warm. I rate the film a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

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					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2012 Mark R. Leeper