Thanks in large part to the truly wonderful cast, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a delightful film that is both humorous and moving.
There is something to be said for a small, but engaging film like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It is not flashy, sexy, or loud; it is, though, colorful, romantic, and filled with music. Director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) brings to life not only the exotic culture of India but also his characters, all of whom are facing their mortality and how their lives have measured up to their own expectations.
Based on the novel by Deborah Moggach, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel centers on a group of older British citizens who, for various reasons, decide to “outsource” their retirement to India, where they are promised relaxing and lavish accommodations. When they arrive, though, they discover that the Marigold Hotel, run by the energetic and optimistic Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel), is dilapidated and lacking the many amenities promised by the brochures.
Though their plans for retirement don’t exactly unfold as they may have hoped, the retirees attempt to make the most of their new home. Graham (Tom Wilkinson), who recently left his post as a barrister, is the only member of the group who has been to India before, so he becomes the default tour guide. From the outset, Evelyn (Judi Dench), whose husband just died and left her a load of debt, is enamored with her new surroundings. The Ainslies, Douglas (Billy Nighy) and Jean (Penelope Wilton), experience a rift in their relationship when he embraces the culture and sightseeing and she becomes almost agoraphobic, refusing to leave the hotel grounds.
Never letting anything get in the way of his next conquest, Norman (Ronald Pickup) continues the philandering way he lived his life in England, turning the charm up to eleven whenever a female is about. His counterpart and sometime wingwoman, Madge (Celia Imrie), is herself looking for a man, preferably one who is incredibly wealthy and still physically active. The most inactive member of the group, who also ranks as Bigot Supreme, is Muriel (Maggie Smith), a former maid who has come to India for an inexpensive hip surgery and finds eerie similarities between herself and the Hindu caste of Untouchables.
Thanks in large part to the truly wonderful cast, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a delightful film that is both humorous and moving. Wilkinson, who is usually the most vibrant actor in any scene, gives a very understated performance as a man who has returned to India at the end of his life in hopes of setting straight a wrong he committed in his youth. His search for a lost love is the heart of the film, its reverberations felt in every other character’s story. Dench is terrific as a woman who realizes the life she was living was a lie, and who welcomes the chance, for the first time in her life, to hold a job and earn money on her own. Possibly because hers is the most well-written character (as well as the narrator), Dench’s performance is the one with which we can most identify.
Providing the most comic relief in an already lighthearted film is Patel as the unflinchingly upbeat young man who is desperate to make the hotel—his father’s dream—a success. Leaving behind any remnants of his breakthrough role in Slumdog Millionaire, Patel is outstanding as Sonny, a never-say-die, eternal idealist in rose-colored glasses. His mantra (“Everything will be all right in the end. If everything is not all right, it is not yet the end.”) is infectious for not only his guests, but the audience, as well.
As a director, Madden has had a mixed filmography, to say the least. Shakespeare in Love was magnificent and visually stunning. His more recent films (Killshot, Proof, The Debt) have been divisive, but each, like Marigold Hotel, is filled with beautiful cinematography and a wonderfully vivid sense of the world of the film. While The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel may not be the most groundbreaking film released in 2012, it is nevertheless a solid film that will entertain a wide variety of audiences. | Matthew Newlin