Having just delighted in Laura Pedersen’s Indian travelogue, Planes, Trains and Auto-Rickshaws (cross-reference below), what fun it is to take a fictional journey to Jaipur alongside seven elderly Brits as they try to find meaning in whatever remains of their time on the planet.
The hotel in question (like its first guests) looks better in touched-up photos than up close and personal. Missing doors (a curious plot point pulled out of Deborah Moggach’s novel—These Foolish Things—by savvy screenwriter Ol Parker that has a hilarious payoff in the closest thing to a sexual encounter the film ever gets), leaking pipes, birds in the loft and loo-inducing homemade cuisine are all set pieces that have been seen and heard before. Indeed, there’s nary an unexpected twist along the way to surprise, but that doesn’t matter a whit. Watching the troupe of seasoned veterans at the top of their long game mix it up with rising stars (Dev Patel is teddy bear cuddly as the aptly named Sonny, the over-eager permanently naïve hotel manager trying to resurrect his father’s failure like “Phoenix from the ashes”) being put through their paces by director John Madden, is a constant joy. The art of filming an entertainment doesn’t get much better than this (only the sudden character shifts, notably Maggie Smith’s from bigoted, discarded “in service” young maid to worldly, business-smart old maid causes any concern).
Throughout it all both views of East/West culture clashes add to the enjoyment (locally, Sonny’s sweetheart does not figure in his mother’s pre-arranged plans—you’ll never guess how that is resolved: even Deepa Mehta might go along with the gag) and give composer Thomas Newman ample opportunities to fill the ear with drum-laden tracks (of course there’s a festival worked into the mix) even as director of photography Ben Davis floods the screen with frame-after-frame of marvellous colours and textures.
This is arm-chair travelling of a very high order indeed: All aboard! JWR