(On Cable TV, August 2017) As much as it pains me to say this, I found Lion to be overlong, surprisingly dull and not quite as inspiring as it wants to be. The story of an Indian boy who ends up far away from home, is adopted by an Australian family and then (twenty years later) searches Google Earth to find his hometown, Lion should be far more interesting than it is. It’s certainly not without merit—the first half of the film does portray India with startling details, and it’s hard not to feel empathy for a five-year-old boy forced to survive so far away from home, with no idea how to get back. Then the film skips ahead, and can rely on the charm of Dev Patel as an expatriate finally using the resources at his disposal to find where he came from. There’s a little bit of modern technology marvelment as Google Earth is used to track down where he could be coming from, and then a conclusion’s worth of bittersweet happiness as he finds his mother again. But Lion is very, very long for the (admittedly true and untidy) story it tells, and at times it’s easy to wish that it would move just a bit faster. It also asks a lot of some viewers, and I’m not sure I can, as a dad, stomach the possibility of a five-year-old being lost so far away from home with no hope of returning. As a result, while the film is far from being a waste of time, I’m not quite as bullish on Lion as I’d like to be.
(On TV, April 2017) Perhaps the biggest surprise of The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is how neatly it follows-up on the first film. Despite a few new characters and situations, subplots are carried through, the tone is consistent and nearly every character gets a role to play in the sequel. The film picks up not too long after the first, which means that you can see the two film back-to-back and it will feel like a whole. The portrait of India is pleasantly complicated as the story goes a bit beyond the surface impressions of the first film. Judy Dench once again takes on a substantial role, but the ensemble cast does give substantial characters to Maggie Smith (continuing a solid character arc), Bill Nighy (charming in a role that could have been irritating), Dev Patel and, newly introduced in the series, Richard Gere. While The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is slightly more formulaic than the already schematic original (all the way to climaxing at a wedding), it’s a decent-enough follow-up to the first film—those who were charmed by the first Exotic Marigold Hotel are likely to feel just as pleased with this one.
(On Cable TV, April 2017) Ensemble romantic comedies are a dime a dozen, but few of them tackle the topic of retiree romance as well as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. While I don’t entirely buy the premise (pensioners moving from Britain to India for their last few years), it does make for a clever way to put familiar characters in new situations. As they navigate the unfamiliarity of modern India, our cast of character grows from their new surroundings, we viewers get a good dose of exoticism and various subplots are left free to develop. A good ensemble casts helps—While Judy Dench and Tom Wilkinson are the standouts here, Bill Nighy manages to make a weak-willed character sympathetic and Maggie Smith gets the difficult role of a stone-cold racist changing her ways after immersion in a foreign culture. Dev Patel also gets a good role as the young Indian man trying to hold a plan together despite the actions of his western guests. Colorful, sympathetic and gently upholding admirable values, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is the kind of pleasant surprise that British cinema does so well. It’s not spectacular, but it works well enough.