Film Review: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Don't underestimate the wit of retired Brits on the Subcontinent
Posted: April 18, 2012
Power to the lovers. Dev Patel does his best to manage his hotel and his heart.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is not a masterpiece of filmmaking, but it is a film so unreservedly entertaining it would take someone with a heart of stone not to be affected by its sense of humor, its bright colors and its many lively storylines. With a cast that includes dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, both playing type but in top form, the film radiates with the best of British wit and exquisite Hollywood production value in a striking location.
Independently of each other, seven Brits - all in their sunset years - decide to go to India and spend some time at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in Jaipur, an establishment that, going by the pictures on its website, promises to be majestic.
But looks can be deceiving, and when they arrive, the hotel is not quite the paradise on earth they were expecting, as can be inferred at the entrance, where it states the hotel is "for the elderly and the beautiful." The place is spacious and has a certain charm, but it is not what these Westerners were hoping for. It is run by Sonny, a charismatic boy barely out of his teens, whose bubbling, irrepressible optimism is positively contagious, despite the building crumbling around him, the lack of any money coming his way and the pressure of living up to his very successful older brothers.
Sonny is played by Dev Patel, the boy from Slumdog Millionaire. While his character was certainly memorable in that Oscar-winning film, this is the first time we see him truly relish the role he is given - one that also doles out some very amusing lines to him. But the film belongs to the seniors, and whether it's Dench writing her blog, Tom Wilkinson going down memory lane or an elderly gentleman plucking up the courage to visit an Indian sexologist who could help him take advantage of his golden years, the collection of characters is both funny and gratifying.
Directed by John Madden
With Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Dev Patel, Tom Wilkinson
If the idea of watching a gaggle of seniors pack up and leave for India in order to escape their humdrum lives back in London does not sound like something you'd be remotely interested in, think again. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has more emotional intelligence than most of these kinds of films, and while it uses the warm colors of the Subcontinent to its benefit, it does not make the country into the kind of over-the-top spiritual pilgrim's paradise that made Eat, Pray, Love so nauseating.
One of the characters, a kind but henpecked husband named Douglas (Bill Nighy), rediscovers the joy of solitude in a temple, far from his petty, motormouth wife, and though we (luckily) never see him meditating, his status as an almost peripheral character is cemented and solidly communicated by Nighy's sad face, even when he is smiling in the background.
The film has its predictable turns, but these can move the viewer nonetheless, and some are staged with such quiet compassion they shine with genuine feeling. One storyline sees Graham (Wilkinson), a high-court judge with a few secrets, returning to India to find the love of his life, whom he hasn't seen since spending his childhood in Jaipur. A comparison of this story with another character's big declaration of love toward the end of the film will highlight the care with which this older generation is drawn and the film's refusal to let them be one-dimensional. Director John Madden does not manage the many storylines with complete success, but if we choose to follow the stories moment by moment, the dialogue and in some cases the acting provides enough verve to keep us compelled.
The characters are almost immediately recognizable, and as the wheelchair-bound, racist old Muriel, who forgoes a hip replacement by a black doctor in a British hospital and travels to India where she is surprised to find Indian doctors, Maggie Smith has to sink her teeth into a very limited character, but every bigoted remark she spits out will have the viewer in stitches, not unlike her similar performance in Gosford Park. The character's obligatory development is not entirely smooth, but her silent stares of condescension often make for hilarious moments that don't need any explanation.
As a comedy, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a roaring success. It's obviously more commercially oriented than The Darjeeling Limited - for proof, look no further than all those orange sunsets - but the characters and a succession of actions both raucous and touching make this one of the most enjoyable films of the year.
André Crous can be reached at
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