The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel follows a group of British retirees who decide to "outsource" their retirement to less expensive and seemingly exotic India. Enticed by advertisements for the newly restored Marigold Hotel and bolstered with visions of a life of leisure, they arrive to find the palace a shell of its former self. Though the new environment is less luxurious than imagined, they are forever transformed by their shared experiences, discovering that life and love can begin again when you let go of the past.
It turns out jobs aren't the only thing that can be outsourced to India; retirement can be outsourced, too. Such is the premise for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Seven cash-strapped elderly people from different walks of life in Great Britain decide to spend their final years at a beautiful hotel in Jaipur, India. But upon arrival, they learn the condition of the hotel is nowhere near as advertised, thanks to some clever photo-shopping. The hotel manager promises improvements are on the way, but in this part of the world nothing happens overnight. The hotel guests, which includes an all-star cast led by Dame Judi Dench and Tom Wilkinson, must learn to adapt swiftly to a completely new lifestyle in a strange land. Along the way, several of them discover there is much beauty and life in India--if only they are willing to step out and experience it.
Directed by John Madden and written by Ol Parker, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is based on a book by British author Deborah Moggach. The seven new residents of the hotel make for an eclectic mix, or as eclectic as seven white British people can get, anyway. There's the recently widowed Evelyn (Judie Dench), the single man with a secret Graham (Tom Wilkinson), and the unhappily married but loyal Douglass (Bill Nighy) and his grouchy wife, Jean (Penelope Wilton). Norman (Ronald Pickup) and Madge (Celia Imrie) are the sex-charged guests that have not given up on finding love just yet. Maggie Smith rounds out the group as the crotchety, borderline racist, yet wise old bird, Muriel.
In less talented hands some of the material in the script could be a tad predictable, and a bit of a slog. There are no big surprises, but the nuanced performances and the vibrant city of Jaipur bring a poignancy to a familiar story: getting old can be depressing and isolating, but it doesn't mean you have to throw in the towel.
The casting director for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel probably deserves a raise. Getting all of these legendary British actors together on one project could not have been an easy task. Plus, they shot on location in Jaipur for about 8 weeks, which surely presented some challenges. Tom Wilkinson is particularly excellent in his role as a retired judge that lived in India 40 years earlier, and still has some big regrets about how he left. Bill Nighy also provides an understated, but spot-on performance. Dev Patel does more than hold his own with the accomplished cast. His character Sonny is able to see possibility where no one else does, especially when it comes to his dilapidated hotel, and his spirit gradually begins to rub off on the others. Throughout the movie he quotes an old Indian saying: "Everything will be alright in the end. So, if it is not all right, it is not the end." (Sounds like a solid campaign slogan for 2012, doesn't it?) However, Kapoor's family storyline that revolves around a domineering mother that doesn't approve of his girlfriend feels a little cliched and contains some lines of dialogue that are right out of a Lifetime movie-of-the-week. There are moments of loneliness in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel that are truly heartbreaking, and to watch the characters attempt to overcome them is inspiring. It's those moments that will stay with you after the movie is over, and leave you thinking about how quickly life can go by.
The humor here is of the subtle variety. There aren't any big laugh-out-loud moments or fantastic one-liners, nor does there really need to be. Norman and Madge do deliver a couple of funny moments in their quests for sexual conquests but most of the comedy is provided by the hotel manager, Sonny Kapoor (played nicely by Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire). Patel shines in this role by bringing a much needed exuberance and urgency to a film that tends to have too many scenes where people are discussing the merits of tea and biscuits (really, one of those is too many). He's desperate to make the hotel a success, but has no managerial or business acumen whatsoever, and he gets some help from an unlikely source, succeeding in lending the subtle humor found in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
May 4, 2012