The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is an utter delight. Here is a satisfying comedy unafraid to have a heart and a brain, and it has no interest in toilet humor or cheap gags. It’s one for the mature crowd, as it earns lots of belly-laughs through genuine wit and doesn’t shy away from the inherent dramatic elements of its story. Based on Deborah Moggach’s novel “These Foolish Things,” director John Madden (“Shakespeare in Love“) has given this picture a warm tea-and-biscuits type of charm, rendering it suitable for older, more cynical moviegoers probably disenchanted with today’s filmic landscape. Add to this an all-star British cast including the likes of Judi Dench, Bill Nighy and Maggie Smith, and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a film you cannot miss. Anyone of any age will have fun with it.
The story starts in England, where a varied bunch of retirees begin looking to make their autumnal years easier on the wallet. There’s the recently-widowed Evelyn (Dench) who’s awash with debts; Muriel (Smith), who requires a hip replacement; Graham (Wilkinson) who’s looking to revisit his past and confront old demons; couple Douglas (Nighy) and Jean (Wilton) whose marriage is under strain; and singletons Norman (Pickup) and Madge (Imrie) in search of adventure and love. They all come together in India, where they stay at the seemingly enticing Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Unfortunately, the hotel has fallen into disrepair. The hotel’s well-intentioned owner Sonny (Patel) dreams of providing a wonderful resort for retired folks, but is facing financial difficulties. Added to this, Sonny’s disapproving mother (Dubey) lingers around, doubting Sonny’s capacity to run the hotel and wanting him to enter an arranged marriage.
Similar to the rundown hotel of its title, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a feature which slowly but surely grows on you. Blessed with a smart script by Ol Parker, it’s charming, emotional, witty and engaging, not to mention it possesses unexpected depth and richness. All of the main players are strongly-written and three-dimensional, and the film thoughtfully reflects upon what it means to grow old, how we view ourselves in old age, and how we value the elderly. While old folks are often seen as useless in Western society, the main players here all have something to give, and they’re only respected and given the chance to effectively contribute when they move to a different culture. And to Ol Parker’s credit, a number of character arcs defy our predictions. The only real problem with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is that it’s less interesting while dealing with Sonny’s dilemmas. It’s laudable for this minor character to be given some dimension, but his romantic subplot is too familiar and contrived, betraying the intelligence otherwise exhibited as the narrative plays out.
It’s a daunting task to juggle a large ensemble of characters with their own individual stories, but, to the credit of Madden and Parker, the film for the most part succeeds in this respect. It’s great fun to watch the different responses of each guest; Graham and Douglas have an extraordinary time, while Muriel constantly moans and Jean hates everything she sees (loudly!). Admittedly, the movie does drag at times, but technical contributions are otherwise top-notch. India is a country rich with culture and heritage, and Madden’s crew have wonderfully captured these characteristics. Thanks to Ben Davis’ luscious cinematography, you can almost feel India’s humidity on the noisy, crowded streets amid the stalls, markets and traffic jams. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel lets us bask in the country’s flavors, and experience the exquisite beauty of India when riding on a tuc tuc or rickshaw while your ears are filled with a range of sounds.
Easily the biggest strength of the film is the cast, which features some of the finest elderly actors that Britain has to offer. Watching this gathering of immense talent is an utter pleasure, and all of them are perfect in their respective roles. The standouts are Judi Dench and Bill Nighy, the former of which is especially adept at dealing with the story’s dramatic and emotional elements. Maggie Smith, meanwhile, is as brilliant as ever in the role of Muriel, and she had a field day with one-liners. And then there’s the always-reliable Tom Wilkinson, who displays immense gravitas as Graham. “Slumdog Millionaire” star Dev Patel also appears here, delivering an enthusiastically over-the-top performance as hotel manager, Sonny. Rounding out the cast is Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup and Penelope Wilton, who are equally as terrific as their higher profile co-stars.
It’s definitely worth checking into The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. This is a lovely movie, and it’s a sublime showcase for its terrific cast which effectively mixes light-hearted laughs with scenes of pathos. If you have a good sense of humor and an open mind, you’ll no doubt have an enjoyable time with this flick. It will leave you with a big smile on your face and a warm heart . . . Who can complain about that?