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The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly & Beautiful (2012)

| May 26, 2012 | 0 Comments

The most refreshing thing about The Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly & Beautiful is that, for once, here is a movie about adults who act like adults.  They are not merely adults who act like wrinkled 20 year-olds, but real adults who act their age in a way that is logical, funny, sad, and very touching.  It is nice to see some older folks get a chance to take the lead in a movie.  Here is a movie about a septet of people past 60 who have a lifetime a problems, heartaches and regrets.  Yet, the movie isn’t a downer, they have problems, but this is a good-natured and often very funny movie about characters in their later years who are trying to figure out what to do with themselves.

Based on the 2004 novel “These Foolish Things” by Deborah Moggach, the film’s title refers to a hotel in India that sends out brochures promising a glorious retirement in a lush and beautiful hotel.  The retirees have decided to outsource their retirement to a place less expensive and, supposedly, exotic.  The brochure is where the extravagance ends.  The hotel is a mess, a place so run-down and drafty that one guest complains that she spent the afternoon giving names to the bugs in her room.

Seven travelers have come to this location for various reasons.  As the movie opens we meet them in their various states of unhappiness back in England.  We meet Evelyn (Judi Dench), a recent widow who is baffled by the advancement of the world around her, and goes to India after being forced to sell her apartment; There’s Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith), a crusty old bird who hates Indians and isn’t happy with the prospect that she has to go to India to get a new hip; There’s Graham Dashwood (Tom Wilkenson), who lived in India as a boy and once fell in love there, and is now returning to try to close a chapter that has been looming in his heart;  There is a couple, Douglas (Bill Nighy) and Jean (Penelope Wilton), whose marriage is in crumbs, especially after their daughter blew all their money on her internet company; There’s Madge (Celia Imrie), who is hoping to find a new husband; And there’s Norman (Ronald Pickup), a twee rascal who is hoping to sow his wild oats.

What seems, at first, to be a standard comedy about people moving into a crummy house and becoming friends eventually develops into something more.  Each one of these characters develops a level that is one step deeper than we might expect.  The most touching is Graham, who has lived most of his life with a shameful secret about his former love and is only now coming back to India to find closure.

Evelyn provides the film’s central drama, as a widowed wife whose late husband handled all the financial affairs.  Now that he is gone, she is alone in the world for the first time.  Suffering huge debts, she moves to India to live out her final years.  Put out by the cold indifference of a tech support representative, she locates the office in India where she does something that we don’t expect.  What happens, I’ll leave it to you to discover.

I also liked Muriel, who seems, at first, to be just your standard grouchy old bat, but late in the film she develops a bond with an outcast servant girl and reveals the she spent her life back in England as a housekeeper taking care of a family in a large house until she got so old that she had to be replaced.

Also touching is the hotel’s manager, young and enthusiastic Sonny (Dev Patel) who took over the hotel from his late father and promises the guests that it will be in top shape in no time.  The meat of his story begins when we meet his domineering mother (Lillete Dubey) whose other two sons are successes in life and regards Sonny with a kind of irritation before taking over the hotel herself.  All Sonny wants is to make his own way and to marry the girl he loves despite everyone else’s objections.

In spite of the fact that the story steps into some dark territory, it is mostly light and very funny.  Not in the way of slapstick or gags, but in a funny touching human way.  This is not a great masterpiece, it is more of a grand day out with profound moments added in.  One of the best touches is that it uses its locations as a supporting player, a backdrop on which the characters find themselves strangers in a strange land, unable to hide behind their familiarities.  This is not the visually stunning India of Slumdog Millionaire or any of the sanitized Bollywood confections.  The movie makes clear that India is hot, sweaty, dirty and often inhospitable.  That’s a clever subtext to the characters, and represents the internal struggle of their personal lives.  If they can endure in this harsh environment, perhaps they are not so lost as they had thought.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2012) View IMDB Filed in: Comedy, Drama