It has been said that one must never forget where one comes from, yet one must also know where one is going. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a heartwarming coming-of-golden-age ensemble comedy featuring seven British retirees in search of greener pastures, rediscovering themselves in a Third World country, much to their surprise. Set in Jaipur, India, this film is as robust in color as it is studded with stars.
Told through the perspective of recently widowed Evelyn Greenslade, attentively crafted by Dame Judi Dench (Shakespeare In Love), we are introduced to her and her travel companions via a montage of their personal histories. We have the romantically and financially bereft Douglas and Jean Ainslie, served up to realistically unsettling Harold Pinter heights by Bill Nighy (Love Actually) and Penelope Wilton (Downton Abbey), respectively. The sensual singleton Madge Hardcastle is refreshingly portrayed by Celia Imrie (Calendar Girls), while her equally frisky counterpart, Norman Cousins, is portrayed by Ronald Pickup (Fortunes of War). The Parliament judge, Graham Dashwood, fleshed out brilliantly by Tom Wilkinson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose), longs to adjourn unresolved matters of his younger heart. Last, but certainly not least, is a medical tourist in dire need of a hip (and attitude) replacement, Muriel Donnelly, wheeled in by Dame Maggie Smith, (known to American audiences as Professor Minerva McGonagall, in the Harry Potter films) replete with ignorant fear of everything foreign — including Indians. Once assembled in a row of airport seats due to a cancelled connecting flight, you are treated to this chorus line of British veteran thespians as their characters embark on a long night’s journey towards their much longed-for oasis.
They are welcomed by the highly energetic and youthful Sonny Kapoor, intelligently presented by Slumdog Millionaire star Dev Patel. His natural and charming delivery of saccharin and nearly diabetic positivity — apparently a directorial choice by John Madden (also of Shakespeare In Love) — poignantly balances the obviously dilapidated hotel, which was overembellished by a photoshopped advertisement. While the guests are forced to confront their personal foibles in practically uninhabitable accommodations, Sonny’s rhythmically volleyed anecdotes water the roots of their newly developed friendships. One in particular, resonated so strongly with me, I made it my Facebook status: “Everything will be all right in the end. And if it’s not all right, then it’s not yet the end.”
The somewhat formulaic and predictable outcome is but a slight crack in an otherwise solid film, thanks to a formidable cast. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a treasure worth seeing and sharing with viewers of all ages — and how refreshingly “exotic” to feature an underrepresented demographic ripe with a harvest of wisdom and experience. Just as marigold flowers are favored as companion plants, this motley crew’s Third World travels upgrade them to first-class connections, with lasting friendships and love.