THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL
By Gary Murray
Starring Judi Dench, Bill Nighy and Maggie Smith
Written by Ol Parker based on the novel by Deborah Moggach
Directed by John Madden
Running time 124 min
MPAA Rating PG-13
Selig Film Rating FULL PRICE
The term ‘comedy’ has changed over the years. Back in the times of Shakespeare, comedy was the adversary of tragedy, the other side of the coin. Comedies were not stories full of laughter but stories where everything seems to be going badly for the entire cast until the third act when plot turns around. There are few jokes in The Merchant of Venice but it is called a comedy. Using that older definition, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a winning comedy.
The story is of senior citizens living in the UK. Evelyn (Judi Dench) is a recent widower who must sell her flat in order to pay off her husband’s debts. She sees a brochure for a place in India called The Marigold Hotel. It promises great senior living at an affordable price. Muriel (Maggie Smith) is a former nanny who needs a new hip. She hates foreigners but is told that she can have the operation done in an exchange program done in India. She must travel abroad to get the surgery and to stay there for the recovery.
Graham (Tom Wilkinson) is a barrister who is fed up with the world he is a part of and decides that he will make a fresh start by traveling back to his childhood home in India. There is something from his past that he must rectify, something that has haunted his life for forty years. Jean (Penelope Wilton) and Douglas (Bill Nighy) are a couple married 40 years who find that their savings are gone and must downsize in order to make ends meet.
All of these seniors meet and become the first residents of the newly refurbished Marigold Hotel run by Sonny (Dev Patel) a young man who believes that he can bring the old building back to its former glory days. Sonny has his own problems. He is in love with a woman who is not considered worthy by society, especially his mother. Sonny wants to be a success so he can defy his mother and marry the woman he wants to be with.
Life is not easy for these people. Besides the culture clash one would expect, there are issues with the seniors in a new world. Jean and Douglas see India as a very different country and while Douglas finds it refreshing being exposed to a different world, Jean pines for England. Graham spends his days in research, trying to find a friend that he has not seen in years. It is a mission to find the man because Graham wants to apologue for something that happened when he was a teenager. It is one of those incidents that has gnawed and festered over the years.
Evelyn finds that she is still having a hard time trying to make ends meet and has to take a job at an Indian call-center. For a woman who has never held a job, this is quite a shock. She teaches the locals how to talk to the English, being proper in their approach to people half a world away.
And, of course, even with the older set there is love and romance. Finding affection in the later years is just as important as the passion teenager’s experience. Different characters explore the avenues of warmth needed to keep the fire stoked. In the end, everyone just wants to be appreciated and loved.
This is a film that couldn’t be made in the US. In our youth obsessed culture, a film with senior citizens finding life in their latter years would never be made. These actors are some of the most lauded performers of our generation but today they are usually placed in supporting roles. It is a refreshing jolt to see these older actors showing that love is not the domain of youth and that emoting is not the purveyance of kids.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is directed by John Madden, the force behind the great Shakespeare in Love and the not so great The Debt and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. While every film he does has some great moments, the final product is not the sum of its parts. Here he crafts a beautiful film about friendship that should resonate with every audience. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is not a film for the Geritol set but for every person who feels out of place in this big, beautiful world. It is magical experience that should not be missed.