"The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" (Fox Searchlight/Participant): Based on Deborah Moggach's novel, "These Foolish Things," John Madden's film adaptation, "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," follows seven characters from their virtually dead end lives to their various unexpected renewals thousands of miles from home. Recently widowed Evelyn (Judi Dench) is not only dealing with the sudden loss of husband Hugh, but also the considerable debt he left behind. Unapologetically racist Muriel (Maggie Smith), a former housekeeper, is faced with hip replacement surgery, but doesn't want to be treated by a non-English (read: white) doctor. Retired civil servant Douglas (Bill Nighy) and his wife Jean (Penelope Wilton) are dismayed to discover how little real estate they can afford on his pension. The oft-married Madge (Celia Imrie) holds out hope for one more marriage, preferably to a man with money. Like Madge, Norman (Ronald Pickup) is also looking for love, but with someone considerably younger than he is. Retired judge and professor Graham (Tom Wilkinson) dreads retirement because it may cause him to confront his own demons.
All seven stumble across The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful in Jaipur and decide it's the best place to be for each of their purposes. Evelyn plans to blog about her experiences. Muriel is able to have her surgery sooner than if she'd stayed in England. Douglas and Jean view the hotel as a more affordable alternative for their retirement. Madge and Norman see the potential for romance in the foreign setting. Graham returns to Jaipur, where he spent his youth, in search of his lost male lover, Manoj.
Upon their arrival they discover that the hotel is in utter disrepair and bears no resemblance to the photos in the brochure or on the website. But Sonny (Dev Patel), who inherited the business from his father, is determined to fix up the hotel with aid from an investor and keep his newly arrived guests happy. Sonny is also in love with Sunaina (Tena Desae), who works for her brother Jay (Sid Makkar) at a call-center. Sonny's mother (Lillete Dubey) doesn't approve of their relationship and wants him to return to Delhi and take part in the marriage that has been arranged for him.
Somehow all of these diverse characters, with their individual personality quirks, find common ground as the ground below them constantly shifts. In spite of being on the predictable side, "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" is entertaining, touching, charming, vivid and, if a movie can be fragrant, this one sure is. As is to be expected, it's on the strength of the ensemble cast's performances (Dench, Smith, Wilkinson, Nighy and Wilton are especially good) that this film rests and, without reservation, the actors don't disappoint. (In wide release May 4, 2012.)
"Hit So Hard" (Well Go USA/Variance): Patty Schemel, the subject of P. David Ebersole's doc "Hit So Hard" may not be a household name, but she deserves to be. A drummer with a reputation for being one of the hardest hitting musicians in her profession, Schemel has been playing the drums since the age of 11. Keeping the beat in a variety of bands, Schemel is perhaps best known for her tumultuous tenure in the band Hole, led by Courtney Love Cobain (as she is identified in the film).
An out lesbian, Schemel herself documented her experiences in Hole, and such vintage film footage enhances what is already a gripping story. Schemel, who came out in a 1995 Rolling Stone interview, somehow found a way to balance her musical career and role in Hole, playing Lollapalooza and a multitude of festivals, recording albums and living the rock star life. Of course, such a life can also have a negative effect, including Kurt Cobain's suicide followed soon after by Hole bass player Kristen Pfaff's drug overdose. In and out of rehab, Schemel hit rock bottom when she quit Hole and ended up strung out and living on the streets.
Ebersole makes especially good use of interviews in "Hit So Hard." Subjects ranging from Schemel's mother, (who tells a touching story about Patty's coming out; her brother Larry, with whom Patty is close in age and shared a series of substance abuse issues; Love Cobain, who comes off as crazy and self-absorbed as you might expect; Hole band members Eric Erlandson and Melissa Auf Der Mar; female musicians such as Go-Go's drummer Gina Schock, Bangles drummer Debi Peterson and Veruca Salt's Nina Gordon; writer Sarah Vowell; out musicians including Imperial Teen's Roddy Bottum, Phranc, Luscious Jackson drummer Kate Schellenbach and Fanny drummer Alice de Buhr, among others.
With all the drama in her story, the greatest impact of "Hit So Hard" turns out to be that Schemel, six years sober at the time the doc was completed, has found a happy ending. Happily running the Dog Rocker Dog Care business, married to her girlfriend with whom she is a proud parent (with sperm donated by brother Larry), Schemel continues to perform and is also actively nurturing the next generation of female drummers via various enterprises. ("Hit So Hard" screens at the Gene Siskel Film Center on State Street in Chicago, May 4-10.)