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Worst Exotic Marigold Hotel



Kitty Green and Julia Garner have teamed up again (and this time Jessica Henwick is along for the ride) in Green’s latest film, The Royal Hotel.



Traveling abroad with your best friend is a rite of passage. Drinking too much, running out of money, and meeting people from other countries, all seem like a fun adventure until you find yourself trapped in a potentially threatening situation. That’s what happens when Hanna and Liv find themselves working at a bar in a remote part of the Australian Outback where the clientele is almost entirely made up of male miners.


Their first night employed at the Royal Hotel bar is simultaneously a going-away party for the previously employed working tourists (two women from the United Kingdom) who decide to go out with a bang: getting wasted, climbing on top of the bar, and subsequently, almost missing their flight home the following morning. That first night is extreme, but not insanely out of the ordinary for a backpacking experience abroad. It’s not until the next day when things have seemingly settled down, that their new job becomes more ominous for the film’s main characters. As in Green’s previous film, The Assistant, red flags start popping up from time to time that continue to mount the entire film.



Green does a really excellent job at creating these quiet atmospheres that are poised and ready to explode. Most of the central action takes place inside the bar at the Royal Hotel - a dark and dingy space filled with jarred snakes and beer bottles. After starring in 2020's The Assistant, Julia Garner is back, this time as Hanna, in an equally steely performance. Hanna initially seems fun - open to making out with strangers and dancing - until she runs out of money and is forced to work with Liv at the hotel. Her character walks the line between seeming uptight and seeming entirely validated in trusting her instincts. Green, in collaboration with Garner, does a wonderful job of putting us in that vulnerable first-person headspace. Hanna is trying to make the most of a bad situation while it continues to wear her down. As in The Assistant, there’s a mounting sense of dread throughout the film, which is a slow boil to its climax. Jessica Henwick does her best with a less fleshed-out character as Liv, Hanna's friend who just wants to party and have fun; she almost seems to enjoy letting Hanna do all of the worrying for both of them while she goes about her business. There are hints in their conversations that Liv wanted to get as far away from home as possible but that thread never gets tied up. I would have liked to have seen more backstory or more fun happening between the two friends before they are put through the wringer of their job placement, but c'est la vie. While Liv initially tells Hanna to “lighten up,” there comes a point in the film when she realizes that the threats Hanna fears are indeed real.



There is little protection or comfort for the girls to be found in the bar’s owner Billy, played by Hugo Weaving. Billy constantly walks a line between drunken rage and total wasted obliteration. There are only two female characters in the movie, Carol (Ursula Yovich) the bar’s cook and Billy’s sometime romantic partner, and Glenda (Barbara Lowing) an older alcoholic who only seems to egg on the drunken men at the bar around her. Toby Wallace, who I loved in 2019’s Babyteeth, plays Matty, who may be the least outwardly threatening of the bar’s male clientele (looking to date Hanna despite her initial reticence), but he is not totally blameless either. There’s also a fun cameo performance by Herbert Nordrum (of The Worst Person in the World fame) as a friendly traveler hoping to hook up with Hanna again, but he has no idea what he’s getting into.



Green’s latest film is another tense watch that had me gritting my teeth and nodding along in sympathetic recognition throughout. It’s worth the watch and I kind of hope Julia Garner continues to work with her in the future as her own personal patron saint of ghastly working conditions.




 


Diana DiMuro

Besides watching TV and movies, Diana likes plants, the great outdoors, drawing and reading comics, and just generally rocking out. She has a BA in English Literature and is an art school dropout. You can follow her on Instagram @dldimuro and Twitter @DianaDiMuro

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