From the time I heard about The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, I knew it would be comfortable and well-done, but I didn’t know how enjoyable and thought-provoking it would be.
“Comfortable” comes from the premise. A group of British retirees can no longer afford to live in their homeland, so they all wind up in India at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful. It’s not quite as well-appointed as the brochure makes it look, and we know going in that the group will come together through shared struggle and adjustment to the ways of this new land.
Young manager Sonny (played by the dynamic Dev Patel) is struggling to make it the residence of his dreams, so he can please his overbearing mother (Lillete Dubey) and marry the girl he loves (Tena Desae) instead of the one picked for him. This is the same storyline I have seen in every Indian-related movie I’ve ever watched, but Sonny’s optimism is wonderful and inspiring.
“Well-done” comes from the cast. Judi Dench plays a recent widow who didn’t realize how in debt they were until after her husband had passed. Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton (who also played married in Shaun of the Dead) are a couple whose retirement fund went to their daughter’s internet business, which didn’t take off as planned. Tom Wilkinson is a former judge who doesn’t have money worries; instead, he has a secret past in India and his own reasons to return. The two others, Ronald Pickup and Celia Imrie, have similar roles as randy old people not willing to give up on love or sex.
Maggie Smith plays the most intriguing character. She needs a new hip, which she can get more quickly and cheaply overseas. She also happens to be virulently racist. Many people have grandparents like this, people who want to return to a time where everyone around them looked like them, instead of the more diverse world we have now. Her bigotry is a mask for her discomfort at feeling left out of today’s world. She spent her life in service, giving up her own chance at a family in favor of helping another that then cast her aside when she was no longer useful. Smith does a good job handling a difficult role, and her character is the most three-dimensional as a result.
Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, and Bill Nighy in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
“Thought-provoking” are the points the film raises about the place of the elderly in Western society. It’s clear that there’s no role left for these people just because they hit a certain number of years. They’re discards, but even though society doesn’t want them, they still have desires, even if it’s simply not being ready to be done yet. It’s rare to see so much age on screen, with characters that are more than simple comic relief.
There’s a certain amount of “I did everything I was supposed to, why am I struggling in my golden years?” It’s a tough question, and one we’re going to see more and more of, as pensions disappear and individuals are made responsible for their own retirements. The safety net is gone. Yet the movie is quietly humorous about the situations, keeping a positive thought. I particularly liked Dench’s clever solution and her willingness to try new things, plus that she becomes a blogger. She even goes relatively native in dress, as shown in the picture above. I was reminded how new experiences and new worlds keep us young.
The country is described by one character as an “assault on the senses… a riot of noise and color”, and seeing the life there is another enjoyable part of the film, particularly with the unique historical relationship between England and India.
An early statement made by Patel’s character sums up the underlying optimism. He says, “Everything will be all right in the end, so if it is not all right, it is not yet the end.” There’s always more to life. There’s also a built-in audience for this film, if they find it. If you’re lucky enough to still have your parents, take them. I bet they’ll enjoy it.