Saturday, May 19, 2012

Semi-Satified At The Movies

If I were going to use BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL as a teaching aid on how to structure fiction, it would fall neatly into two parts: the first seventy-five minutes and the last fifteen.
The movie concerns the fates of a group of elderly Brits who all move to a new hotel in India, where their retirement money will go much further.  The hotel, which is barely surviving, is ineptly run by Dev Patel (from SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE).  This sounds like a really stupid premise for a movie full of cheap laughs.  There are a few of those, but in the main, the movie is interested in the difficulties:  -- romantic, financial, existential -- of its aged cast.  And, amazingly, it treats these with dignity and respect.  The romances are not filmed in the sneering manner of "Oh, how cute, old people acting like teenagers!"  These people's failures to connect, as well as their successes at that, are serious to them, and the movie makes them matter to us.  This is helped by a wonderful cast: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton. 

Where the movie fails is in the wrap-up.  After setting up a number of difficulties for the characters to cope with, they are all solved in the last fifteen minutes by having three -- three!  count 'em! -- obstructive characters abruptly change into supportive and giving characters.  Only one of these changes, Maggie Smith's, is foreshadowed or made even remotely plausible.  It's too bad, because the movie could have kept its "villains" true to themselves and still created a positive, if more defiant, ending.

In one sense, India is the real star of the movie.  It serves as the catalyst for the characters' last chance to confront their life-long issues and change -- or not.  Here the poverty of India is mostly downplayed, although not ignored.  This India is a swirl of color and vitality, calling up the vitality some of these old people still possess.

I recommend the movie.  Rewrite the ending in your own mind.  I did.

1 comment:

Gregory said...

Good: catches the one true India well. Too bad about the endings.