We have seen quite a few kid-friendly movies the past few months as we spent some time with a friend of ours and his son who just turned 8. Child and all adults agree that The Avengers was the most enjoyable of the bunch, which included Japanese animation Arrietty (better than Ponyo, but that wasn’t saying much), Mirror, Mirror (not bad if you go in with low expectations), and Men in Black 3 (fun while it lasted but seemed a little thin—at least to the adults in the audience).
While these child-friendly movies boasted some charm, perhaps most memorable movies I have seen in the last few weeks are two that did not involve animation or CGI effects: 2011’s The Way and the recently released The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. I should concede right away that the movies were not masterful works of originality. I’m certainly not going to suggest that these were not predictable. To wit: Will the Martin Sheen character eventually bond with other pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago and live a richer and fuller life for the better-late-than-never opening up of his mind and soul? Will Maggie Smith’s character finally let go of Heinz brown sauces and Hob Nobs, along with her bigotry, and embrace—if not dal curry and pappadums—the warm-heartedness of the Indians? (Never mind the natives' own prejudice against the "untouchables"...) You guess.
Yes, both movies were predictable—and implausible when not strictly predictable. But there were two important things in the plus column for these movies: 1) actors you want to watch and 2) locales you want to explore. Few people have anything bad to say about Martin Sheen; most people adore Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith and the rest of the gang. More importantly, we also want to be transported to another world, perhaps the world of northern Spain’s farmlands or of overcrowded but sun-kissed India.
These movies belong in a class we can call Cinematourism. The really not very good Under the Tuscan Sun (which wasted Diane Lane), BBC’s A Year in Provence (with the ever-irascible but spot-on John Thaw), the disappointing Eat, Pray, Love (that even Javier Bardem could not save), George Clooney’s little-seen The American (set in a sleepy Italian village) all had one thing in common. These, and many like these, appeal to viewers like me drawn in even more by the scenery and the perspectives of a different way of living than the exposition and execution of plot or characterization.
Normally, I would be all over a movie mis-step (see my review on Anonymous here: http://eatingreadingwriting.blogspot.com/2011/11/making-history-anonymous-review.html), overacting, producers expecting too little brain activity from the audience. Yet I find myself loath to nit-pick, drawn into a mediocre movie despite my critical faculties, when they throw in eye candy of the landscape variety. It’s not just that I swoon at the mere sight of lavender and poppy fields. (Guilty as charged.) In fact, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel seemed to avoid trying to show the majesty of some of the most impressive sights. We more often heard, rather than saw, that characters visited a glorious temple or a palace, etc. Yet such movies still offer up a new way of seeing if not the world around us then at least the people around us and the opportunities we are ignoring to connect with others. In short, these movies gently nudge us to re-evaluate what is most important to us.
Even if a movie is not successful as a piece of cinema, such movies (and books and other forms of art) offer the invaluable service of letting us get outside of our routine and the comfortable confines of our little slice of the world. That is, to get outside of ourselves. I went to see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in a room full of retired or soon-to-be-retired theater-goers (and it felt oddly comforting to be in the presence of such active and robust people who nevertheless qualified for the senior discount), and I could imagine that the movie might have started some people ruminating about what they want out of their retirement years—and what they want out of their lives. I saw The Way on DVD with Will and our friend Laura. We have since started discussions about when might be the best time to walk the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. My research tells me March or October, so perhaps we’ll get out of our working rut and go out walking the world.
Who knows? Come March, I might be crossing over from the French Pyrenees to Spain and blogging about the different goat cheeses I eat along the Camino. I sure hope so.