The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is as comfortable as an old pair of shoes ... and about as surprising.
The latest from director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) is an adaptation of Deborah Moggach’s novel about a group of Brit retirees who opt to outsource their “golden years” to a retirement community in India.
The film is cast with many of the usual suspects (Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Penelope Wilton) and going in you can be sure that while these expatriates all will bring problems with them, most will be resolved before the lights come up.
Marigold Hotel... has been carefully calculated to please the over-50 demographic, and why not? If the runny-nosed adolescents get movies made just for them, why not something for Grandma?
The twist here is that the Marigold Hotel they arrive at is but a mere shell of the imposing structure promised in the brochure. There are plenty of arches and colorful tiles and wind-cooled verandas, yes. But there’s a general aura of shabbiness around the place. The courtyard is overgrown and some of the new residents find their apartments have no doors.
But once in India, most haven’t the means to go back to England even if they wanted to. The worldwide recession has left their savings in tatters.
Among the newcomers are a bickering married couple, Douglas and Jean (Nighy and Wilton); he quickly falls under the spell of India, while she hates every overheated inch of the place.
Widowed Evelyn (Dench) gets her first job ever teaching the Indian staff of an international call center how to deal with Westerners. She loves it.
Retired solicitor Graham (Wilkinson), who grew up in the area, is looking for the love of his life, whom he abandoned a half-century earlier.
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And then there’s the curmudgeonly Muriel (Smith), who came because in India her hip operation will cost but a fragment of what it would in the UK. Of course, she’ll have to find a way to tamp down her lifelong case of racism.
Attempting to hold it all together is the hotel’s proprietor, young Sonny (Dev Patel, of Slumdog Millionaire), who has grand plans to restore this old palace. Other members of his family want only to raze it.
Sonny is an eager dreamer with an unstoppable sense of optimism (if your story doesn’t have a happy ending, he maintains, it must mean your story hasn’t ended yet) and a cheerful way of mangling the English language with elaborate attempts at eloquence.
But he’s such a nice guy you can’t help but love him. And after a while the residents (well, most of them, anyway) find themselves loving the Marigold Hotel as well.
The film’s sense of exotic atmosphere is enchanting and there’s no arguing with the acting talent on hand. But Ol Parker’s screenplay invariably takes the easy way out. It feels too pat, too glib, too contrived.
So, yeah, it’s a feel-good movie. But then why do I feel sort of guilty, too?
About the Author
Robert W. Butler is a lifelong Kansas City area resident, a graduate of Shawnee Mission East High School and the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. For several decades he was the movie editor of the Kansas City Star; he now writes a movie-themed blog at butlerscinemascene.com. He joined the Library's Public Affairs team in 2012.