Directed by: John Madden.
Written by: Ol Parker based on the novel by Deborah Moggach.
Starring: Judi Dench (Evelyn Greenslade), Tom Wilkinson (Graham Dashwood), Bill Nighy (Douglas Ainslie), Penelope Wilton (Jean Ainslie), Maggie Smith (Muriel Donnelly), Ronald Pickup (Norman Cousins), Celia Imrie (Madge Hardcastle), Dev Patel (Sonny Kapoor), Honey Chhaya (Young Wasim), Tena Desae (Sunaina), Sid Makkar (Jay), Seema Azmi (Anokhi), Vishnu Sharma (Mr. Maruthi), Diana Hardcastle (Carol).
I avoided The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the last few months because the previews made it look like a phony movie about senior citizen wish fulfillment. I mean how many people say that once they retire, they are going travel and see the world? Most of them end up living out their lives quietly at home. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I wasn’t sure, I really wanted to sit through this movie. But the reviews were strong, and the movie has become a sizable independent hit, so I put my initial impression of the previews aside, and went to see the movie. And I must say, that for the most part I was right. This is a phony, calculated movie aimed at seniors. Yet, it is also charming and funny, and very well acted by the great British cast. The movie is still too calculated for my taste – especially the last half hour – and the movie is never really great. Yet, the movie, at the very least, is a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours.
The movie starts off in England, as we meet a number of elderly Brits who decide that their lives are not exactly what they want them to be in England. So, they go online and all see the advertisements for a hotel in India catering to the elderly. It looks too good to be true, but they all sign up anyway. There is Evelyn (Judi Dench), who let her late husband take care of everything, and now finds she is deep in debt. There is Graham (Tom Wilkinson), a judge who is tired of attending retirement parties for his colleagues, and decides to return to India, where he grew up the son of a diplomat. There is Douglas and Jean (Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton), who sunk their savings in their daughters ill-advised internet company. There is Norman (Ronald Pickup), a horny old man who finds he’s too old to attract many women. There is Madge (Celia Imrie), a horny older woman, looking for yet another rich husband. And then there is Muriel (Maggie Smith), who has no interest in going to India, but does as part of a program that will allow her to get a hip replacement months earlier than if she stayed in India. When they finally arrive at The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, they find it nowhere near what they thought it was going to be. It is run by a dreamer, Sonny (Dev Patel), whose brothers are both successful, and who is fighting with his domineering mother who thinks she is too much like his hopeless father, who also wanted to make The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel a success – and of course, failed.
The movie was directed by John Madden, who after his two breakout films, Mrs. Brown (1997) and the Oscar winning Shakespeare in Love (1998) looked like he was going to become one of the great British filmmakers of his generation. But since then, he has had an up and down career, never able to reach those heights since. He doesn’t here either, although he does what he can the material. His best accomplishment is being able to get the performances out of his cast that he does. Dench is the calm center of the movie, which is odd because her character has so much tumult in her journey –and perhaps learns the most of anyone. Tom Wilkinson is quieter, but also a little more heartbreaking. He has the stiff upper lip we expect from the British, but it hides a lifetime of regret. I also really liked Bill Nighy, who embraces the new challenges his life has given him – this may not be the plan, but he’s going to make the most of it. This is in stark contrast to his wife, who would rather wallow in self-pity. And best of all, of course, is Maggie Smith who since Gosford Park (2000) has made a late career out of being the seemingly dignified British elder who says whatever is on her mind. She starts out a racist – a humorous one, but a racist nonetheless – and although I do not really buy her transformation, she is still great fun to watch.
For me, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is too calculated and manipulative to be truly effective. Each and every character in the movie starts out as an archetype more than an actual character – and they pretty much remain that for the entire run of the movie. Yes, the movie is lightweight fun, but I do wish that it took a few more risks – that it pushed the characters a little further than it does. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is great fun to watch at times – but the further it goes along, the more you realize you know precisely what is going to happen – and the movie never deviates from its well-worn path. I enjoyed The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel more than I thought I would – but it`s still not a great movie – even if I can admit I know why so many seem to love it as much as they do.