The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA rated PG-13 for sexual content and language
Running time: 124 min.
Cast: Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Dev Patel, Penelope Wilton, Maggie Smith, Ronald Pickup, Celia Imrie, Tena Desae, Lillete Dubey, Diana Hardcastle
Director: John Madden
Screenplay: Ol Parker (based on the book, "These Foolish Things", by Deborah Moggach)
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a film about aging, when seniors finally come to grips that they are no longer middle aged and are now joining the ranks of the elderly. It's a time when people begin thinking about retiring, settling in somewhere, where they can still feel the need to get busy living, or succumb to their beliefs that whatever goals left unachieved will always remain so, and get busy dying. No longer finding a role to play in the world they once were a part of, is it worth the effort, at this late stage, to set a new course, find new love, lands, and adventure?
The story puts together several senior citizens ready for a new life, some looking to get away from loneliness, others just wanting to get away from their ruts, into the Indian city of Jaipur, where a dilapidated hotel is being run by Sonny (Patel, Slumdog Millionaire), an earnest and ambitious manager who sees big things for the place he has dubbed, "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful". Each person has a story: Graham (Wilkinson, The Green Hornet) is a man who once lived in India in his youth who wants to tie the two ends of his life together. Evelyn (Dench, Nine) is a lonely widow whose inability to make her own ends meet sees her take a chance on living overseas away from everything she has ever known. Muriel (Smith, Half-Blood Prince) is a bigoted former maid whose exposure to wealth and power had made her feel part of the family until she outgrew her position into retirement, and now seeks help in order to secure a less-expensive hip replacement surgery. Jean (Wilton, Pride & Prejudice) is the withered and bitter ball and chain to the loyal but weathered Douglas (Nighy, Deathly Hallows Pt. I), who longs for the kind of change in his like that Jean fights kicking and screaming. Madge (Imrie, Nanny McPhee) and Norman (Pickup, Prince of Persia) are single and not too old to be ready to mingle.
Esteemed director John Madden (Proof, The Debt) exquisitely films this fine ensemble piece, a truly impressive lineup of veteran British actors, based on a book by Deborah Moggach, with a subtle touch most of the time, though the story dabbles occasionally in the sitcom comedy genre, with all of the contrivances and short-hand stereotypes in story that generally entails in order to score up some quality laughs. It's not an out-and-out comedy though, as nearly every storyline has an undercurrent of sadness, regret, and loneliness that suggest that getting older, indeed, can be a scary and melancholy state for many. The story is nothing terribly unpredictable, though there are a number of smaller surprises that can delight, but there is a chord of truthfulness underneath each characters' story arc that persistently rings true about the human condition, and the societal view on the aged and aging.
With such a sizeable ensemble, screen time isn't much for any one of them, and the characters of Madge and Norman are mostly used for comic relief. More time should have been spent with them and less of the romance between Sonny and his girlfriend Sunaina (Desae), of whom his mother (Dubey) vehemently disapproves. As much time is spent on their story arc as any other, which does occasionally blur the thematic resonance of the story to be more about the new culture of India vs. the traditional class and matchmaking structure, but one can also read into this the angle that India, like the building and its residents, is an old country that must also find new life through new ideas, not getting stuck in old ways of thinking at the cost of growth.
With locale work that is truly sublime, without sugarcoating Jaipur, with its traffic and pollution, as some sort of magical or transformative place, you see the town, the building, and the people, warts and all, as works forever in progress. As Sonny, the fast-talking, quixotic young manager remarks in the film on a couple of occasions, "Everything will be alright in the end. If it is not alright, then it is not the end." As with the Marigold, so it is with the people, a few years past their prime but still worthy of dreams, ideas and value to those who dare to try, because no one, and no place, is ever a lost cause.
©2012 Vince Leo