PG-13 for general cheekiness. It's rebelliousness for old people. If this was any other movie, this would be the most tame PG-13 ever. But because it is old people talking about sex, it suddenly seems somehow taboo to a target audience. It's really pretty low key. The worst part of it is the attempt to have Dame Maggie Smith's character change from a racist to not being a racist. It's hamfisted and it does not age well. There's some really mild almost nudity that the MPAA lists as nudity, but it's all fine. Again, the worst thing is the racism. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: John Madden
I can't be the only person who thinks that the guy who directed this movie was also the football guy? That's what keeps me going in the blogging profession / hobby that is completely unnecessary. It's thinking that this movie was directed after the guy who has a series of video games named after him. Regardless, this is one of those movies that I wasn't the target audience for. I remember boomers losing their minds over this one and it became this sensation when it was out. Then I completely forgot about it until a sequel came out and then I forgot about it again. But it is one of the last movies in my Fox Searchlight box set, so I suppose I had better watch it. After all, the blog is titled, "Literally Anything Movies".
I'll start off by saying that it is a better movie than I thought it would be. I thought there would be me powering through this knowing that I would have to write about it, but not so much. I can actually say that I left mostly enjoying it. Maybe it is me aging, but I think that this movie has a lot of its ducks in a row. It's just that there are elements of the movie that I am flummoxed by. Be aware: I'm going to be working through some of these feelings as I write. (It's why I do this blog. I want to talk about movies after I watch them, but that doesn't happen very often.) In terms of messaging and intended messaging, the movie has something that it wants to say and these are things that need to be said. We're talking about how the elderly are still people, there are always second chances, racism is toxic, that sort of things. I think it is more along the lines of the different degrees of effectiveness when it comes to delivering these themes that the movie can be either hit or miss.
It's the least effective elements I want to talk about because I don't necessarily hate these moments, but I don't know if they are the homeruns that the movie wants them to be. I was very confused with some of the choices with Dame Maggie Smith's character and Penelope Wilton's characters (Muriel and Jean, respectively.) Muriel and Jean are the two characters who come in with these absolutely abhorrent attitudes when it comes to moving to India. Muriel is over-the-top almost evil when it comes to dealing with India. A deep-seated racist, there are moments where we're kind of supposed to laugh at her old-timey bigotry. No denying, Madden wants to show Muriel's change from the beginning of the film to the end. To do this, she has to be completely abhorrent. But in terms of the tone of the film, Muriel isn't allowed to be so gross that the movie loses its audience. It has to be a redemption arc, doesn't it? Early in the movie, I looked over at my wife and asked, "What if the movie had the guts to have this old lady just die racist and alone?" Yeah, that didn't happen...
...but it kind of did. Because Jean Ainslie is a watered-down version of Muriel. Muriel is straight up racist. She's the kind of xenophobic that movies have to make racist audience members feel good about themselves that they aren't as bad as Muriel. But Jean...Jean's comfortable xenophobic. Jean is someone who has led a life of privilege and comfort for her entire life that she feels personally affronted when she stares genuine discomfort in the face. I was wondering why Jean was in the movie if Muriel was already covering the racist element of the film. Well, it's because Jean is there for both contrast and conflict. Jean isn't really a fully-realized character in the film. She is there to stop Bill Nighy and Dame Judi Dench from getting together. She's my least favorite rom-com character type. She's the character who has committed to the love interest of the movie to create tension. But these characters need to be despicable. They need to be the worst that humanity has to offer so when they get dumped, the audience cheers because everything is what it needs to be. And like many of these characters, Jean is the type who lets her husband Douglas get a free pass. There's a moment right at the end of the movie when Jean is faced with the rom-com equivalent of the trolley dilemma: a rikshaw-type driver can either get both husband and wife to the airport with no luggage or just one of them home with luggage. Jean chooses what she really wants, her luggage, and Douglas is given the gift of the moral high ground in this situation. He is allowed to be freed from his marriage and embrace India the way he wants to.
I don't know how I feel about Jean. I think I would like Jean a lot better as a character if Muriel wasn't in the movie. It's just so much you can take with old white ladies complaining about non-White people. And the thing is, Muriel is the one we root for in the end. She's the one who has this life-changing moment that shifts her outlook on life. But because that same arc is split with Jean, who never makes that moment, Muriel's transformation seems...sudden? Muriel's big shift comes in the moment when she befriends one of the lowest castes of Indian society. I don't know if the onus should really be on this girl to make nice with one of the old white ladies to make it happen. And there's almost something there. It's the fact that they both have held similar lives. Muriel, as a beloved servant left to die, feels kinship with this girl. But it's not a small shift. There's never a come-to-Jesus moment where we get to see the regret for years of bigotry. Instead, she's just a good guy from that moment on. It's fine, I guess. But part of this also comes with the British rom-com insistence on having a million separate characters all going through separate character arcs a'la Love, Actually. If it focused on just a character or two, there would be something else.
Like, honestly, Dame Judi Dench's Evelyn's only character history is her husband's death. Every scene, "Did you know my husband died and I have no money?" Like, every scene. And she's great at it. If you had any other actor in that role, everyone else would be screaming what I'm screaming. "We get it. You have a dead husband. What about you?" Because nothing about her is actually involved in those moments. What do we want to root for, her getting over her husband? Because I don't know if that's the most helpful advice in the world either.
But the movie mostly works. Perhaps it is a bit superficial and not the best look for India, but it is a charming movie. I know that there isn't much for me to really consider deep or memorable, but the movie kind of pulls off some really tender moments. Part of it may be that I'm softening in my old age or I was just in the mood for it. But between Tom Wilkinson's character arc and some of the sweetness behind the film, I really enjoyed it. Sometimes a movie just is what it needs to be in that moment. I will probably never really recommend the film, but it did hit the exact thing I was looking for that evening. Yeah, I hate excused affairs and casual racism probably needs to disappear. But the rest of the movie is fun, if not a little goofy.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.