Directed by John Madden
Written by Ol Parker from a Deborah Moggach novel These Foolish Things
With a cast like this, in this environment, it’s hard to not like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. I’ve read some reviews that criticize the picture for riding too much on the charm of that cast, with too little story for them to hinge on. I hear that, but at the same time, it’s like criticizing The Avengers for riding too much on the charm of its action sequences, or Men in Black III for not providing much beyond the special effect aliens. I say that seeing the cream of the Brit thesp community (over a certain age) doing their thing in Jaipur is the reason you go to see the film, its strength and success.
Graham Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson) has had enough of his life as a well-known judge in London. He grew up in India, and decides that’s where he will retire, and while he’s there, he’ll look up an old friend with whom he has unfinished business. Douglas and Jean Ainslie (Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton) are a couple stuck in a loveless marriage who recently lost a lot of their savings. Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith) is a bigoted, retired housekeeper in so-so health looking for a cheap hip replacement. Evelyn Greenslade (Judi Dench) is a recent widow who sold all her material goods to pay her dead husband’s debts. Madge (Celia Imrie) and Ronald (Norman Cousins) are both single, both looking.
They all meet on their way to the hotel of the title in Jaipur, all perhaps expecting something a little more fancy. The property, a delapidated building in need of some love and attention—just like its new tenants, maybe?—is run by Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel), a young man with big dreams and something to prove, to his call-centre worker girlfriend Sunaina (Tena Desae) and disapproving mother (Lillette Dubey).
All the Brits are great, no doubt, with big props to Dame Judi, Nighy and Wilkinson, especially. You put these actors together and you get quality performances, every time. And, of course, the themes of aging and mortality, of never giving up on your dreams, no matter how old you are, all are to be expected, as is a subtle reaffirming of British colonialist past. This is hardly a political film, but you can’t tell a story of aging Brits in India without hints of the Crown’s history in that country to crop up here and there, even if only in posh, comfortable vibe of lawn clubs. Though I’ve never been to India, so maybe all of that still exists anyway. You won’t find much in the way of criticism here, either way.
Jaipur is its own character, and offers a great deal of beauty to the film. But I was a bit disappointed that the local characters, including Patel and Desae, weren’t quite as resonant, complex or interesting as the Brits.
If you think no one will die, or no one will find unexpected love, or a new lease on life, or ride tandem on a scooter through the streets of Jaipur, you’ve come to the wrong movie. Accept all of that going in and there will be a few unexpected pleasures to enjoy, too.