The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)


(director: John Madden; screenwriters: Ol Parker/from the novel These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach; cinematographer: Ben Davis; editor: Chris Gill; music: Thomas Newman; cast: Judi Dench (Evelyn Greenslade), Bill Nighy (Douglas Ainslie), Tom Wilkinson (Graham Dashwood), Maggie Smith (Muriel Donnelly), Dev Patel (Sonny Kapoor), Penelope Wilton (Jean Ainslie), Ramona Marquez (Madge’s Grandchild), Celia Imrie (Madge Hardcastle), Ronald Pickup (Norman Cousins), Lucy Robinson (Judith), Tena Desae (Sunaina), Vishnu Sharma (Mr. Maruthi), Lillete Dubey (Mrs. Kapoor), Diana Hardcastle (Carol); Runtime: 123; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Graham Broadbent/Peter Czernin; Fox Searchlight Pictures; 2011-UK)

A great exercise in British acting.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A great exercise in British acting for this cast of cinema notables, who use their charm and experience to overcome the mushy story line in this cliched seriocomedy set in a bustling Jaipur, India. It’s based on the novel These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach, and is written byOl Parker in a too schematic manner. Veteran filmmaker John Madden (“Ethen Frome”/”Mrs. Brown”/”Shakespeare in Love”), guilty of making feelgood flicks that are falsely uplifting, is guilty here of nearly ruining the film with a last-minute haul of unbearable mush and an abrupt unconvincing severe personality change for one of its main characters. Madden directs this as digestible middlebrow entertainment for the senior crowd, who get a chance to see their lonely senior peers go to exotic India to get a life change and experience culture shock. This is not a film for cynics, as after all India is a place for the hopeless, for the uncommunicative, for the ones who think life is a privilege and for dreamers.

A group of disappointed in life disparate elderly British retirees are lured into staying at the crumbling former luxury Marigold Hotel in Jaipur, India, run by the former owner’s young son, an ambitious and well-meaning but irresponsible flighty bumbler named Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel, Slumdog Millionaire star). Sonny’s trying to save the hotel from ruin by talking to investors of its possibility as catering only to the elderly. The young man has a controlling mother (Lillete Dubey) who shows up from Delhi to insult him, to try to sell the failing hotel and not give her permission for him to marry the modern girl (Tena Desae) he loves because she comes from a family of a lower-class and is promiscuous. The English guests come to escape from their dreary life in England or to live cheaply in their old age or for an inexpensive operation or to die in peace. When arriving they realize that the photos online of the hotel had been touched-up by photo shop and they had been swindled, as some adjust to the news and others fall apart.

The seven Brit guests are: Evelyn Greenslade (Judi Dench), a recent widow, who is now broke thanks to a domineering husband she blindly trusted and now wants to fend for herself in the world after being sheltered all her life. Graham Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson) is a refined gay retired high-court judge, in search of his lost schoolboy lover when he was raised in Jaipur by his parents and the lovers were shamefully found in bed together. The retired civil servant nice guy Douglas Ainslie (Bill Nighy) and his joyless nasty wife Jean (Penelope Wilton), whose daughter blew their entire retirement nest egg on a failed start-up internet company and forced them to try to live on the cheap in India rather than invest in an old-age retirement place in London. Muriel Donnelly is an outspoken bigoted housekeeper who needs an expensive hip replacement operation which she can’t afford in London, but can in India. Madge Hardcastle (Celia Imrie) has been divorced many times and plans to use the hotel as a cheap residence so she could find romance with a wealthy man by visiting the city’s better social clubs during her free time. Norman Cousins is a desperate randy bachelor old-timer filled with sex urges, still hoping to bag a woman and make use of his Viagra.

All their stories get too neatly tied together in the end. Though if you look past its forced syrupy moments, it amusingly shows what happens when old people are taken out of their comfort zones and of how living in London with people from India is not quite the same as actually living in India. It religiously follows the mantra of the bloodied but not beaten Sonny:“In India, we have a saying — everything will be all right in the end. So if it is not all right, it is not yet the end.”