If I told you just the plot of "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," you likely wouldn't expect much. A number of elderly English people decide to "outsource" their retirement to India, where they can get more bang for their buck. Life-changing revelations follow.
But, surprisingly enough, "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" works. More than that: It's a sweet film about age-old crises that never feel old.
Given the talent involved, though, we shouldn't be too surprised. The cast of the latest film from John Madden, who made last year's excellent "The Debt" and is best known for "Shakespeare in Love," is a veritable dream team of Britain's best: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy. The names that aren't as familiar to American audiences are those of vets almost as good, such as Ronald Pickup and Celia Imrie.
|3 out of 4 stars|
|» Stars: Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith|
|» Director: John Madden|
|» Rated: PG-13 for sexual content and language|
|» Running time: 124 minutes|
Everyone has slightly different reasons for booking a long-term stay at what its proprietor calls, in full, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful, but most boil down to money. Douglas (Nighy) and Jean (Penelope Wilton) lost their savings to their daughter's failed Internet start-up. Evelyn (Dench) is recently widowed, with nothing much to keep her in England. Muriel (Smith) needs an expensive hip replacement.
Graham (Wilkinson) is the main mystery of the group. (And, being a high court judge, of great interest to the lonely married woman played by Wilton.) He's been to India before and seems to have returned with some purpose. Everyone else is rather shocked to land in India and find it so ... Indian. "Can there be anywhere in the world that is such an assault on the senses?" Jean asks.
It doesn't help that the hotel with the fancy name turns out to be a dilapidated dump. "You Photoshopped it!" one guest accuses the proprietor, played with charming earnestness by Dev Patel. "It is a vision of the future," he responds seriously. He offers them a "wonderful taste of Blighty" their first evening, with a roast dinner. "Roast what?" a guest asks. "Roast goat curry," he says quickly.
"All life is here, I tell you," Graham says passionately of his beloved India. The same might be said of the hotel itself. There's that lonely marriage. There's a woman, Evelyn, on her own for the first time in her life. There's another woman, Muriel, who finds her racism challenged by the simple courtesy of the Indians she meets.
Maggie Smith's character isn't even that unlikeable at her worst. She gets some of the film's best lines, such as, "At my age, I can't plan that far ahead. I don't even buy green bananas."
The lessons these very different people learn, late in life, aren't terribly new. But they're lessons we all struggle with, like them, until the very day we die. Brought to life by such a delightful cast, such schooling can only be a pleasure.