I’ll say this for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: it was good enough that, for about 10 or 15 minutes, I actually found myself interested in traveling to India, a country that, prior to my viewing of this film, held almost zero pull for me.
That feeling wore off eventually (I’m a mild claustrophobe, after all), as did some of the other charms of this film. But by the end, I was still left with enough to feel like I hadn’t wasted my time – a mild upset considering the target demographic here is about 20 or 30 years my senior.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel follows seven British retirees, who, for financial and/or personal reasons, decide to relocate to Jaipur, India for their Golden Years. Sonny (Dev Patel) is the proprietor of the dilapidated lodging house that gives the film its title, a dreamer hopeful of fulfilling the plans his deceased father had for the outdated building.
Sonny’s guests are a who’s who of British acting heavyweights. (Seriously, if you think you’re an aging British actor or actress of some import and you weren’t cast in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, you might want to re-evaluate your perception of the world.)
There’s Judi Dench as Evelyn Greenslade, a widow forced to sell her house to pay off her recently deceased husband’s debts. At least nominally, she is the heroine – voiceovers of her daily blog entries serving as bookends to key plot points. There’s Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton as the Ainslies -- Douglas and Jean -- the only couple in the group -- their relationship fraying by the day after they lose their retirement nest egg funding their daughter’s startup. There’s Tom Wilkinson as Graham Dashwood, a pensive magistrate who has returned to Jaipur to find a long lost flame. There is Ronald Pickup as Norman Cousins and Celia Imrie as Madge Hardcastle, loners looking for another shot at love and human connection. And there is Maggie Smith as Muriel Donnelly, a xenophobic former housekeeper who has traveled halfway around the world for a surgical procedure that she can only afford in India.
With the exception of Graham, none of these people particularly want to be where they are (Jean and Muriel are downright furious about it), but, with a nudge from Sonny and a burst of energy from their entirely foreign surroundings, they begin toshape new lives, essentially out of the ether. This is aging, and I can’t quite remember a film that crystallizes it so well. Whether it’s retirement or the loss of your partner, at some point when you get old you will likely be left having to start all over, having to try and check off what you can from the bucket list with the little time you have remaining.
I think it’s incredibly hard to meditate on this sort of thing without edging into clichés, and of those there are plenty in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It all feels a bit like an elderly version of The Breakfast Club, which is OK, but not terribly fresh.
It’s hard to mind the staleness, though, with a cast of this caliber. There’s warmth, enthusiasm and a twinkle in the eye of everyone. The magnificent seven British actors on display here are just that, but Patel’s Sonny should not be overlooked either. His character’s bright-eyed optimism and boundless energy keep the film on its toes for the full 124 minutes.