A stellar British cast, including Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith and Tom Wilkinson, ensure that The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has the feelgood factor without the cloying sentimentality of some romantic comedies. Based on Deborah Moggach’s novel, These Foolish Things, six OAPs arrive in Jaipur, India, in a bid to avoid stagnating in Britain. They are joined by Muriel (Smith) who has reluctantly travelled abroad for a hip operation.
They are all headed for the eponymous “retirement” hotel run by the exuberant Sonny (Dev Patel). Sonny is attempting to resurrect his dead father’s business and restore the building to its former glory. He’s also working on winning the love of his sweetheart Sunaina (Tena Desae). But he desperately needs funds and his mother’s approval. Despite the dilapidated state of the rooms, the elderly Brits decide to stay and find themselves profoundly changed by their various experiences.
Evelyn (Dench) is mourning the death of a husband who left her a pile of debts and broken promises. Graham (Wilkinson) is a former High Court judge returning to India to find a lost love. Norman (Ronald Pickup) and Madge (Celia Imrie) are in search of erotic adventure and Douglas (Nighy) and Jean (Penelope Wilton) are an argumentative couple unable to contemplate the prospect of moving into a retirement home together.
We can anticipate that their interactions with one another, and India’s chaotic charm, will affect them all but, despite the predictability of the plot, it’s a joyous journey that unfolds with genuine wit and warmth and with plenty of surprises along the way.
This kind of bittersweet comedy is what the British do best and it’s heartening to see a film that focuses on the rites of passage of the elderly. Director John Madden gives each of the characters’ stories equal weight. The central message is that it is never too late to realise your dreams but the challenges that the characters face are not simplistic and there are no easy choices. Although the transformation of Murial from an irascible bigot to unlikely saviour of the hotel may seem overly neat, there is truth in her shift of ideals – she is motivated by a selfish desire to be needed rather than pure altruism. The blossoming love between two of the characters and Graham’s reconnection with his past are also subtly drawn.
Part of the success of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is down to its impressive cast. Nighy and Smith provide much of the laugh out loud humour while Dench and Wilkinson bring gravitas to their roles. It’s also beautifully shot with Ben Davis’s camera capturing all the colour, squalor and mayhem of Jaipur.
Originally published by Cine-vue