© 2012 Ray Wong
It's rare to see a drama made for senior citizens. It's even rarer to have one with a superb ensemble cast of some of the finest veteran actors of our time. Such is The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
The story follows several retired Brits who are at their own crossroads contemplating growing old and the last stage of their lives. Evelyn (Judi Dench) is a widow who is forced to sell her flat so she can pay off her late husband's debts. Graham (Tom Wilkinson) is a successful judge who is haunted by his past. Douglas (Bill Nighy) and Jean (Penelope Wilton) are a couple who has almost lost their entire life savings. Muriel (Maggie Smith) is a xenophobe who is desperate to have her hips replaced. Norman (Ronald Pickup) is a lonely old man who tries too hard to find a mate. And Madge (Celia Imrie) is a free-spirited grandma who yearns for adventures.
This group of strangers somehow end up in India, at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a place where older folks can retire and live in luxury. Or so they thought. When they arrive, they discover it's all a sham. The part-owner/manager of the hotel, Sonny (Dev Patel) has duped them. Since Sonny has used their money to fix up the place, the residents have no choice but stay there until Sonny can refund their money.
Misery follows, especially for Jean and Muriel. But then something strange happens. These strangers begin to get to know better about one another, and they forge friendships and alliances that surprise them. For the first time in her life, Evelyn is on her own. Graham is close to finding what he's looking for. Douglas is amazed by the new experiences. Madge is realizing she is not the center of the universe. And Norman starts to date again. Then of course, life has a way to astonish, and and its lessons never stop coming regardless of our age.
The superb cast of character actors include multiple award-winners. Judi Dench (J. Edgar) is exceptional as the scared housewife who for the first time has to fend for herself. Tom Wilkinson (The Samaritan) is particularly touching as the gentle, lovable man who has a sad secret. Bill Nighy (Total Recall) plays an emasculated, unhappy spouse with a nice mix of optimism and frustration. As his wife, Penelope Wilton (The History Boy) effectively channels bitterness and fear.
Maggie Smith (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) is of course marvelous as the timid but brash woman with a chip on her shoulder (and a crack in her hips). Celia Imrie (Nanny McPhee) is sassy and smart. As the "dirty old man," Ronald Pickup (Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time) is rather endearing. Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) represents the younger Indian cast well.
Adapted from Deborah Moggach's (Pride & Prejudice) novel These Foolish Things, the screenplay, written by Ol Parker (Imagine Me & You), successfully weaves the arcs of these characters in a coherent story. It's no small feat. It's interesting to wonder, however, why Maggach, who is a screenwriter herself, didn't choose to adapt her whole novel. Perhaps a little distance and objectivity have in fact served the material well.
While the core of the story and the characters are well drawn and fulfilling, I do find parts of it rather coy, contrived and manipulative. The premise is rather far-fetched -- it takes a general dose of suspension of disbelief. And the situations sometimes are simply too convenient or coincidental. Still, there are strong and genuine emotions that lift the plot to a higher level. I find the subplot of Wilkinson's character particularly poignant and touching.
John Madden (The Debt) is masterful in directing this movie. The production value is excellent, the locations exotic, the camerawork effective. That said, I am somewhat bothered by the focus on India's poverty or its colonial influences. Still, there are scenes on location that are simply breathtaking, allowing us to take in the beauty of India. I just wish there were more balance in depicting the clashing cultures and economic disparity.
While the movie can be manipulative and contrived at times, I find it generally touching, and the characters likable and relatable. It's by no means the best exotic, but I thoroughly enjoy it.
Stars: Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Maggie Smith, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup, Dev Patel
Director: John Madden
Writers: Ol Parker (based on Deborah Moggach's novel)
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content and language
Running Time: 124 minutes
Script - 7
Performance - 8
Direction - 7
Cinematography - 8
Music/Sound - 8
Editing - 8
Production - 8
Total - 7.8 out of 10.0