My nose was put thoroughly out of joint the other day, as is my way, by something at which I’m pretty sure no one else batted an eyelid. To me, however, it seemed somehow fundamental, vital and dangerous to overlook. It was a Times review of The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and it popped me out of my nihilistic disinterest with tabloid opinion just long enough to curse unnecessary negativity and the day-besmirching festival of humbugs that is the Times film review infantry. Clearly they think that they can rain all over your croissants with impunity by thoroughly missing the point of a movie meant only to jog along for 120 minutes gently distracting you from tax returns, doing the laundry, hoovering or grocery shopping. Since I was at home, with no one to disturb except the dog, I thoroughly enjoyed yelling at the paper: something along the lines of “For the sake of everything celluloid, lighten up you crotchety old badger. It’s Hollywood, not a UN summit on genital mutilation.” Some things do not have to be serious. Some things do not have to be art. Some things are just for fun and the sooner the media jump on the bandwagon of all things easygoing, the better for my morning dyspepsia. Between Isis, Greek debts and Putin’s latest foray into megalomania I get plenty of depression with my coffee as it is, no need for Wendy Ide to pile in with her sense of humor bypass as well.
But, I wouldn’t really have bothered my poor reader with my views of the media’s responsibility to its reader… if it weren’t for the fact that our esteemed reviewer pressed more than a few of my buttons, hence the out of joint nose and the polemic.
Where to begin?
Ide must have skipped critical thinking 101: she immediately hoists herself by her own petard vis-a-vis a certain silver screen silver fox, name of Gere. Pugilist that she came to us as, on this chilly Wednesday morning, she began as follows: “It takes a certain amount of gall to introduce an actor of the calibre of Richard Gere into the returning cast of a sequel – and then relegate him to little more than silver fox totty for Celia Imrie to perve on.” At first blush I might be tempted to shrug and say fair enough, the heavyweight heart-melter of Pretty Woman might well be wasted on the role of gentleman eye-candy.
And yet, no. This woman is completely wrong.
For starters Celia Imrie is awesome. Why shouldn’t an impressive Hollywood alum be used as her foil? Would the general flock of reviewers prefer the director had wheeled in a salt-and-pepper hack for Imrie to “perve on” simply because the role wasn’t complex enough for the big guns? I think not!
Secondly, what if Gere just wanted to work with these actors? The cast is a welter of old-school genius, veritably packed with doyennes and maestros. What actor worth his salt wouldn’t want in, regardless of the role? I’d have hacked off an arm with a blunt butter knife to hang out on that set, I bet it was a blast!
Speaking of, funnily enough, Wendy Ide goes on to make much this point… and in doing so spectacularly contradicts herself. Which is were Critical Thinking 101 would have come in handy. “First” she writes “the quality of the cast is such that even a timeless Hollywood heartthrob such as Gere must be content to play second fiddle to the main stars: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Bill Nighy.” So… they shouldn’t have used Gere in the part because it was just an exercise in male objectification for Imrie… but whoever took the part was always going to be backgrounded by the mega-wattage of these acting hall of famers?
This is where I begin to froth at the mouth over the media’s addiction to miserly cynicism. Why the hell not use the best actor you can for the part, regardless of the content of the part?! Especially if he wants to do it?! Oh, right, because you’re a killjoy.
She goes on “Second, even if the film-makers had wanted to give more weight the Gere’s character, the chaotic and scatter-shot structure inherited from the first film would preclude any real depth of characterization.” Excuse me while I go throw myself under a bus, overcome by the futility of it all! So… it is a waste to use Gere for so simple a role… but Gere is small potatoes compared to the Dench-Smith-Nighy triumvirate… and even if they’d beefed up the role for him… it’d still suck because the structure of the film is weak… Well isn’t that just a fait accompli – anyone they used, who was appropriate to the calibre of the rest of the cast would have been condemned for taking so insubstantial a part. Cheers Wendy, I really feel ready to go take on the day now!
But the buzzkill du jour doesn’t end here. There is this belittling gem: “The director, John Madden, feels the need to remind us that we’re in India by chucking a DayGlo-daubed elephant past the camera every ten minutes or so.” Now, here I begin to feel a little sorry for the reviewer. Clearly there’s some underlying depression going on because where she sees this as a tawdry cinematographic boast by the director – a cynical flicking of the audience’s nose; “see, the film takes place in INDIA, see” – I see it as enthusiasm on Madden’s part. He was filming on location in Jaipur!! Why on earth not pack the film with as much colour and action and exoticism as physically possible? Given that this woman likely saw this film on a bone-crunchingly freezing, slate grey English winter’s day, I’d have thought she’d be grateful for cheery, parti-colored quadrupeds.
And yet still the coal-dragging hasn’t ended: “With so many subplots… it’s perhaps inevitable that the storytelling feels shallow and overstretched.” This is just pointless now. The movie is a sequel. Anyone walking into a sequel expecting sweeping Shakespearian beauty, Grimm Brother’s imagination or the plot twists from The Usual Suspects is, frankly, a fool. Either that or, as I suspect is the case here, being willfully derogatory.
Having had a couple of days to reflect, I’ve deduced that the reason that this review got me where I live isn’t really about its competency, or even its depressing insistence on negativity. It’s the underlying attitude. It’s the assumption that cinema is a serious matter; humorless and weighty, that it is always Art with a supercilious capital A. Her assertion is that, if the product lacks artisanal merit as a whole talented people have no business being involved. This seems so reductive me. It summons a rallying cry of “because they can!” She seems so sadly to have missed the point: that the actors had fun, that the story is fun, that the movies are at least in part an institution of fun! I have as voracious an appetite for impressive cinema as anyone; the likes of Atonement and Anna Karenina, documentaries on serious issues, educational and insightful cinema is a stunning and essential part of modern society. But the difference is that my love for the deep, complex poignance of The Theory of Everything doesn’t stop me loving Big Hero 6, or spending Sunday evenings glued to B-horror movies. I am aware that there are bad movies out there, and that Marigold Hotel pt 2 may well be one of them… but I’m not going to climb up on my soapbox and proclaim that they shouldn’t have bothered in the first place and that Gere should have thought twice before getting on the plane.
It is so hard to enjoy the little things in life at the moment, so easy to dismiss excitement and enthusiasm and light entertainment as just so much valueless puff. But, to my mind, a giggle is worth far more than a thousand of Wendy Ide’s sarcastic words.
So, why did they use a Hollywood stalwart as man candy? Why did they fill the movie full of gilded elephants? Why did they cram it with as many story lines as they possibly could? And play them out against a backdrop of “the musical equivalent of curry house-flocked wallpaper”? Why does Dev Patel play his part like a rabbit with a firecracker shoved up its bum?
Well Wendy… BECAUSE THEY CAN! That’s why. And because it’s a movie, not the Magna Carta. And because they all had a fabulous laugh doing it, and what better reason can there be to do something than that?