Older actors have fewer and fewer roles. Sure, some male leads have consistent roles here and there (often as villains who don’t do any action), but the women have little to show. The Hollywood system is cruel in that it will use you for the best years of your life and spit you out just when you become comfortable. Not so in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Oscar-winning director John Madden’s latest. The film follows a group of retirees in England who decide to take a chance and jump at an advertisement for an exotic hotel in India recently renovated just for the “elderly and beautiful”. These leads to many interesting life-lessons learned through both young and old eyes and is a pleasurable journey from beginning to end.
Judi Dench plays Evelyn Greenslade, a recent widow who has to sell her flat to pay the sudden debt of her late husband. She has never had a job nor any real responsibility, so she decides to take a chance and jump at this new, exotic sounding hotel. Tom Wilkinson is Graham Dashwood, a man who once had history in India but left it all a long time ago. He gives up his position as a judge and decides now is the time to go back to India where he grew up. Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton play Douglas and Jean Ainslie, respectively. The two retirees have seen what their money can get them in terms of housing and Jean will have nothing to do with it. When the opportunity to travel comes up, they decide to leave their quiet existence and step on out. The final three are the crotchety, racist Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith) who comes for a hip replacement, Norman Cousins (Ronald Pickup) who is looking for love, and Madge Hardcastle (Celia Imrie) who is out to meet a wealthy suitor.
Together the seven travel to India and discover the hotel isn’t quite what it appeared to be in the brochure. Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel), an ambitious Indian who has a vision for the hotel, is still attempting to fix the place up and find investors. Yet, the group is unperturbed and eventually find ease with Sonny’s hospitality and constant effort to please. As the story unfolds, India is explored in beautiful detail. The fact that this was shot on location becomes incredibly clear and it truly is, as one character says, “an attack on the senses”. Muriel doesn’t get out and about much, which is thankful because her racist remarks would otherwise become annoying and offensive. Instead, her character remains the joke because of how close minded she is. A few truly take to the surroundings, including Evelyn, Graham, and Douglas, who go out and explore the area constantly. Madge and Norman also explore, but are actually after love in the same place it turns out.
While it seems they might be a match for each other on the surface, it becomes clear they are looking for something else. Indeed, most of the characters have very different ends than what one might expect. Despite their age, they prove to have plenty of life and adventures. Sure, there are age jokes and India is the butt-end of quite a few jokes—the characters are all shown visiting the bathroom after a particularly spicy meal—but there is also genuine charm, both in the atmosphere and the stories. Dev Patel, who many might not have seen since the Oscar-winningSlumdog Millionaire, is used well and his own story weaves in and out of the group’s, affecting them at various points and even getting them involved.
Madden is working off of a script by Ol Parker, which itself is based upon the 2004 novel These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach. The film is not a morose, downtrodden tale. Instead, it inspires, delights, and leaves one with a happy outlook. This won’t draw every age group out there, but even those under 20 will likely find something worthwhile if they happen to be in the theater. While this film may have a similar premise to many other romantic comedies where a group of strangers meet in one location, Best Exotic exudes a liveliness that is neither cynical nor overly uppity and definitely not cliched. Death, love, tragedy, missed opportunities and more are explored. There are plenty of laughs and numerous lessons. For many audiences, Best Exotic will touch base in more than one way while also entertaining. You can hardly ask for more than that.