The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – 2012

Director John Madden
Starring Dame Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Dame Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Ronald Pickup, Celia Imrie, Dev Patel, Tena Desae
Screenplay Ol Parker

“Why would you not go out?  There’s so much to see.  All life is here, Mrs. Ainsle.”

The relationship between India and England is a complex and wonderful one.  Formerly a subject state, India is now as it has been for centuries, somewhat of a vacation destination for British citizens. Ancient and modern simultaneously; primitive and advanced: India is a complex wonder of the world.  For a variety of reasons, a group of retirement age Brits decide that their options are limited enough in England, they all take an offer to stay, perhaps retire at a ramshackle place known as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

The hotel is run by a young entrepreneur, Sonny (Patel), who owns 1/3 share with his two brothers owning the rest.  He has boundless enthusiasm in his driven by his wish to rise beyond his station in life, and avoid his arranged marriage.  His relationship with his girlfriend (Desae) seems doomed from both sides.

Each of the characters have their own journey, interweaving and moving on with their lives.  Their stories, while unique, are not necessarily unpredictable.  Even so, the acting is so good, each one is very touching in the end.  My favorite path is that of Muriel Donnelly (Smith), the racist former housekeeper who needed to get an inexpensive hip replacement in an expedited fashion.  She moves from helpless and bitter to having her eyes opened the plight of the lowest caste of India.  Dame Smith has an economy of acting style that reminds me of Clint Eastwood.  She gets better with age.

Similarly, Dame Dench acts as the glue to this story, with a vibrant performance and range of emotions that simply cannot be matched by virtually any actors out there.  Hearing her recite her blog posts provides an intriguing resonance.

My wife feels the same way about Tom Wilkinson as I do about Dench.  The highest praise she can give, I think, was when she stated “He is my new Jerry Orbach.”  His character is deep as the Ocean, emotionally.  I have not seen him this effective since In The Bedroom.

Equally enjoyable it Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton as a married couple at the end of their rope.  Nighy’s Douglas Ainslie is an optomistic man by nature, but recent investment troubles have revealed a chasm between he and his more pessimistic wife.  His gentle demeanor is very touching, and Wilton’s screeching resistance to anything new is a familiar emotion to those scared of change If it is hard to watch at times, it’s only because if feels so real.

Madden’s directing style is fluid and effortless.  His lens takes in the beauty of India without making the noise overwhelming.  In so many movies, from Outsourced to Vanity Fair and Monsoon Wedding, the country is hard to make anything but glamorous, even if Slumdog Millionaire tried.  It’s a confident effort that puts Ol Parker’s words to their most effective use.  One can’t be too sure how much of the navigation of the caste system is completely believable, but the resolution of the Hotel crisis is very amusing and it just feels right.  Just like the rest of this film.

(****1/2 out of *****)


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