Late Life Lushness: ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’

Anyone coming to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel will know before checking in that this is a film carefully designed to meet and satisfy its audiences’ demand for simple pleasures. From the opening credits forward, we silently declare ourselves to be on holiday and seek without effort to relax and be entertained. The film is made for comfort and delivers it with fantastic ease.

For Anglophile moviegoers there is something particularly irresistible in stories of graying Britons who set out with equal mix exuberance and reluctance for a holiday in the sun. We watch and relish as the bright climate and warm air relaxes the fabric of their overly constricted selves. The itinerary may be little changed from other excursions, but we gladly take the journey all the same, in part because there are comparatively few films out there for grown up viewers.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel begins in England with succinct but detailed introductions of its seven main characters. Individually they are all at crossroads in their lives and no longer have the time, money, energy or health to ignore the critical moment at hand.

Recently widowed Evelyn (Judi Dench) is forced to sell her London home to pay off her late husband’s debt. Resolute with a self-possessed optimism, she refuses her son’s invitation to move in with his family. Douglas (Bill Nighy) and Jean (Penelope Wilton), a querulous couple, sank their life savings into their daughter’s failed Internet start-up and now face a starkly different retirement than either had imagined. After a long and distinguished career Graham Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson) is retiring as a High Court Judge and desires to re-visit India, where he lived as a child.

Proud and cantankerous Muriel (Maggie Smith) is a long-serving housekeeper unceremoniously replaced by her employers who feel someone younger better services their domestic needs. Muriel’s frail health places her in urgent need of a hip replacement. With the prohibitive expense and long wait in England, she is urged by her doctors to go abroad for the surgery. Rounding out the ensemble are Madge (Celia Imrie), a frisky divorcee who shutters at the thought of taking on the role of stay-at-home grandmother, and Norman (Ronald Pickup), a randy old man whose ageing body cannot keep pace with his sexual appetite for younger women.

England and its overcast shores are soon replaced by the rich colors and symphonic chaos of Jaipur, India. Each traveler has been lured to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which promises to be a “luxury development for residents in their golden years.” That the reality does not quite live up to the brochure is to be expected.

Upon arrival each guest is welcomed with effusive charm by Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel), the hotel’s young but outmatched proprietor. Having inherited the once grand hotel from his father, Sonny cannot quite balance his entrepreneurial exuberance with the realities of renovating a long neglected property. The hotel has rooms without doors and no working telephones but Sonny sees only the possibility of what his dream can build. His guests and domineering mother, however, are not quite as accommodating.

Adapted by Ol Parker (from Deborah Moggach’s novel, These Foolish Things) and directed by John Madden (Mrs. Brown, Shakespeare in Love) the film neatly interweaves the character’s disparate storylines into a satisfying whole. As moviegoers we have traveled here before and soaked under the more sumptuous sun of Spain’s Costa del Sol and Italy’s Mediterranean coast. This is an incredibly safe movie that never thinks to venture too far outside the gates of its establishment. Even though The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is knowingly predictable this does not detract from the movie’s immense charm or its ability to enchant.

The film is kept alive by mild surprises, genuine wit and the unrivaled skill of its talented cast. Quite simply the only reason to see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is for the opportunity to witness on screen the stellar genius of actors whose immense talent can elevate the banal to the utterly luxuriant. Only actors of the highest quality could transform such an ordinary tale into a film that captivates with a slow exhibition of layered authenticity.

This is a feel good film and, yes, its message is simple and nothing more than one is never too old to break free and live! However, to dismiss such sentiment with easy cynicism is to risk never experiencing the joy of seeing (and feeling) the horizon of life expand before your eyes.

Editor’s Note: It is PopMatters policy to provide readers with information on extras provided with a DVD; however, our writer did not receive the full DVD for this review — only a mere screener.

RATING 7 / 10