THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL Send This Review to a Friend
Turn loose a group of top British stars, set the film in India, add an outstanding director and the result is the charming, often moving and enormously entertaining “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” How could you go wrong with an illustrious cast that includes, among others, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Tom Wilkinson and Maggie Smith, working under the direction of John Madden (“Shakespeare in Love,” “Mrs. Brown”)?
Ol Parker’s screenplay, based on the novel “These Foolish Things” by Deborah Moggach, focuses on an assortment of intriguing seniors who see a hyped-up ad for a hotel in India where they could retire inexpensively. Off they go from England to explore the possibility. But they are in for a shock. The hotel, although a palatial structure, is a run-down mess.
So are the lives of some of the Brits. We get to meet them at the outset through introductory segments that help define them. Judi Dench, whose advancing age does not diminish her overall beauty, plays Evelyn Greenslade, a widow whose husband left her in a dire economic state. But she is intelligent, resourceful and life-loving, and once in India, she demonstrates that she still has something to offer in the job world by being hired to coach telephone solicitors on how to talk to potential clients. It is yet another performance that illustrates how skillful Dench is.
Penelope Wilton and Bill Nighy play Jean and Douglas Ainslie, a couple who should have been divorced long ago. Jean has become an embittered nag who detests everything around her, including her husband, who tries to please her, but nothing he does will. He has been staying in the marriage out of habit and loyalty. Jean’s actions clearly stem from her unhappiness in the marriage.
Tom Wilkinson is Graham Dashwood, who retirees from his high judicial position and has a special interest in visiting India. He has been fixated on a love he had in his youth for an Indian man,whose family was disgraced when the affair was revealed and thus ended. Graham would like to find his former lover. His quest will provide one of the film’s especially moving episodes.
The most amusing man in the group is Ronald Pickup as Norman Cousins, who chases women with much bravado despite his age. It’s fun to watch his carryings on, which lead to a new challenge when an appealing woman finds him attractive. Another seeking relationships is Celia Imrie as the resourceful Madge Hardcastle.
As for Maggie Smith, she plays Muriel Donnelly, who gets hip surgery in India and is a perpetual complainer with a touch of racism. She is forced to adjust and meeting an Indian family becomes a learning experience. It is a colorful role and Muriel’s life is about to undergo a sharp change, which, while not entirely credible, is nevertheless one of the most enjoyable aspects of the story, thanks largely to Smith’s renowned skill.
The film is special for the attention paid to senior characters and the recognition that older people can get new starts in life and should not be regarded as automatically over the hill. Unlike the sea of films aiming at youth, this is one with great appeal to mature audiences.
However, there is also a counterpoint in the film stressing the problems of youth just starting out in life. This comes via the character of Sonny Kapoor, played by Dev Patel, star of “Slumdog Millionaire,” who manages the family-owned hotel and hopes to make it a success. Comically over-enthusiastic and often bumbling, he has a pretty Indian girlfriend, a relationship defying the wishes of his controlling mother, who wants an arranged marriage for him and plans to sell the hotel.
India itself is a star of the film, with its teaming crowds, market places and dazzling sites, with even a brief Bollywood flavor in a traffic jam interspersed with musicians. There is an appropriate score that adds yet another dimension.
The various story lines play out melodramatically, for example, as the potential for a new relationship between Evelyn and Douglas looms, but the interwoven character portraits flow unselfconsciously to consistently involve and entertain us. I already have this down as among the year’s best, as well as a film that provides such a huge helping of pleasure. A Fox Searchlight Pictures release.