By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The characters are retired, but hope to be rewired.
They’re the seven Brits who respond to an ad, then travel to India in search of an affordably comfy dotage in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a British comedy-drama about seniors who outsource their retirement.
They each opt to spend their sunset years in India, to which they travel to reach an inexpensive hotel run by Sonny, an upbeat, ambitious, perhaps delusional entrepreneur played by Slumdog Millionaire‘s Dev Patel, pushing the hotel he runs as a haven for the “elderly and beautiful.”
The eclectic group from the UK includes newly widowed Evelyn (Judi Dench), sheltered till now from her late husband’s debts; ex-high court judge Graham (Tom Wilkinson), returning to the land where he grew up to seek out a lost love; bitter, racist Muriel (Maggie Smith), who needs a hip replacement; Douglas and Jean (Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton), married for nearly 40 years and recently plucked clean of their life savings; aging ladies’ man Norman (Ronald Pickup), in search of a younger woman; and oft-married Madge (Celia Imrie), who’s willing to try, try again.
What they’ve packed and brought with them are their private fears and lifelong weaknesses and personal conflicts and buried secrets and financial hardships and stubbornly entrenched preconceptions about this colorful, crowded, hot, dusty land with its controversial caste system.
And what they discover when they arrive in Jaipur is that the photos they first saw in the hotel’s persuasive brochure and on its splashy web site, promising a life of luxury at a bargain price, were just a tad misleading.
Elegant? Not anymore. Majestic? Not exactly. Dilapidated? Exactly.
You’d have to travel quite a ways, metaphorically speaking, to find an acting quartet more skilled than Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith, and Bill Nighy. And the acting clinic that these pleasure-to-watch veterans conduct as they gift-wrap lived-in characters for this sensitive comedy-drama helps to smooth over some of the shortcomings in a script that, like the hotel’s brochure, looks somewhat better on paper than it is in person and therefore delivers less than what it promises.
But it delivers nonetheless.
Director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love, The Debt, Proof, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin) has certainly concocted a finished product with a strong sense of place, and he makes sure to demonstrate the ways in which each prominent character is profoundly changed by the experience of temporarily residing at the hotel.
But the film juggles so many interwoven plot strands and interacting principal characters on their individual soul-seeking journeys that it sacrifices a degree of focus and intensity.
However, the The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel screenplay by Ol Parker, based on the best-selling novel, These Foolish Things, by Deborah Moggach, does touch lightly on such themes as tolerance, openmindedness, comfort zones, second chances, and the aging process as a state of mind in modestly rewarding ways.
So we’ll adjust to 2½ stars out of 4 for this poignant, charming, and pleasant Brits-abroad dramedy. Aimed squarely at the underserved senior movie audience, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel lobbies for our affection with its stellar cast.