John Madden, director of the Oscar-winning “Shakespeare in Love,” next gave us “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” a comedy about an alternative set of possibilities for the retirement years.
We’ve probably all heard words to the effect that if you retire without a good hobby, then life will lose meaning pretty quickly and you’ll soon die.
Dev Patel (“Slumdog Millionaire,” “The Green Knight“) plays Sonny Kapoor, a terminally romantic, highly animated, and unintentionally hilarious young man. He attempts to turn his inherited, previously glorious but now exceedingly seedy hotel into “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”—an idyllic Indian “outsourced” retirement option for well-to-do Brits.
The cast of British characters includes a couple—he’s adventurous and she’s a stick-in-the-mud (Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton), a high-court judge who left the love of his life in India (Tom Wilkinson), a widow in financial trouble (Judi Dench), a racist house cleaner looking for an affordable hip replacement ( (Maggie Smith), and two true-believers in everlasting romance (Ronald Pickup and Celia Imrie).
The new inhabitants of the hotel—which has pigeon infestations, leaky faucets, and rooms that lack windows—quickly realize that this is not the photo-shopped version of the hotel in the advertisements, and set up a hue and cry. To which, the ever-optimistic Sonny replies, “In India, we have a saying—everything will be all right in the end. So if it is not all right, it is not yet the end.”
The judge seeks his lost love, the Indian-phobic former house-cleaner discovers parallels between her own life and that of the Untouchable who serves her, and there’s lookin’-for-love, septuagenarian style. Young Sonny attempts to crawl out from under the thumb of his meddling mother, who inadvertently seeks to keep him from becoming a man.
“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” has much in common with 2011’s “The Way,” which is about a group of people on a pilgrimage. The characters in “Best Exotic” take an unlikely pilgrimage into the twilight years by deleting the option of beige old-folks rooms with wall railings and panic buttons. Since the setting is India, one could say that by stepping out of their comfort zones, they all, to greater and lesser degrees—enlighten.
The movie is visually sumptuous, the colors vibrant, the indigenous faces arresting, the local customs intriguing, and the soundtrack catchy. Barring an actual trip to India, “Best Exotic” gives the feeling of having had an eye-opening cultural experience—audience members take a bit of India with them when leaving the theater.
The decrepit hotel is, naturally, a metaphor for the physical state of the elderly folk inhabiting it. As they step out of their comfort zones and improve the quality of their hearts and happiness, the hotel reflects the growth, feng shui-wise. Everything is eventually all right. Therefore, it is the End.
‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’
Director: John Madden’
Starring: Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Dev Patel, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith
Running Time: 2 hours, 4 minutes
Release Date: Nov. 30, 2011
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars