Seven English retirees (Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Penelope Wilton, Celia Imrie and Ronald Pickup) look to begin the next chapter of their lives in a seemingly exotic palace-like hotel located in Jaipur, India. Some go because their money may last longer their than it would in England; some go because they have to; others go to simply find an adventure. After flying into the country and having bonded somewhat when surviving what has probably been the most intense bus ride of their lives, they arrive at the courtyard to a structure that is clearly a ghost of the romantic setting that it once was – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
The young and extremely optimistic hotel manager, Sonny (Dev Patel) provides continuous hope that ‘everything will be alright in the end’. Hesitant at first, the seven strangers-come-housemates venture into the unfamiliar sites and culture of India – an experience that Evelyn (Dench) describes as a ‘riot of noise and color’. And each person goes about their time in very different ways: Graham (Wilkinson), having been to India before, seems to be in search of something; Evelyn and Douglas (Nighy) do their best to be adventurous; Muriel (Smith) and Jean (Wilton) detest the land and people, preferring not to leave the hotel; Magde (Imrie) and Norman (Pickup) are looking for new loves. As all these lives mingle and, occasionally, collide with each other, everyone learns something about not just themselves, but also about life and the precious time we have to spend with those around us.
Despite the award-winning cast, I had no expectations going in to see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Movies about the acceptance of aging and the enjoyment of our later years can often feel stuffy and overly philosophical. Much to my delight, this colorful and touching gem was neither stuffy nor too deep – no conversation was so serious or drawn out that it tested your patience or drowned you in emotion. In fact, the witty English humor remains consistent throughout the length of the movie. Every character, each a different archetype of the modern retired senior, is rather entertaining… whether or not they intend to be. There are, of course, some saddening moments to help remind us of the human condition – but these moments are played out with a sensitivity and respect that helps the audience relate to the characters.
Somewhat juxtaposed to the aging lead characters and their stale outlook on life, is the sensory overload that is called Jaipur, India. As most of these characters have never experienced a country like India, it’s almost understandable that they might struggle to soak in the cultural differences – there’s a rather funny sequence, for example, that communicates how these seven strangers struggle at first with Indian cuisine. There are the children who, though they are extremely poor, laugh and play in the streets… enjoying what little they have.
All actors did a phenomenal job on this film. Just as the dialogue was perfectly written to keep a flowing sense of movement and humor, they utilize their wide range of facial and body expression to bring that humor to life. These characters feel totally believable throughout the telling of the story – these are people you know, people you’ve met or heard about… and it’s not difficult to relate to them. The scenery of this film is gorgeous. And though it lacks the grittiness of Slumdog Millionaire (also starring Dev Patel), the impoverished reality that makes up much of India plays just as important a role as the more picturesque sites it has to offer. This movie is simply a reflection on what it means to enjoy life and, perhaps more importantly, each other. One must open up their mind and heart before their eyes can appreciate the world and people around them.
More info: The Best Marigold Hotel on IMDB