India can be a pretty intense experience at the best of times, but it must be even more so if you’re a pensioner. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel somewhat sanitises the full mind-bending experiences that are the Subcontinent and growing old to create a nonetheless charming film.
Before anything else there is the stellar cast of British oldsters. Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton and Celia Imrie represent the ladies, and the chaps are Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, and Ronald Pickup. All over sixty, they play retirees who find themselves in such dire financial straits that living cheaply in India seems to be the best option.
Each of these characters has a back story that shows why Blighty simply won’t do. These tales take up the first twenty minutes of the film and are both funny and poignant. Evelyn, played by Judi Dench, finds that her recently deceased husband left her nothing but debts. She also finds herself completely at odds with the internet or wi-fi or whatever it’s called and the ‘dedicated helpline’ seems designed only to utterly befuddle her… and amuse us. Ronald Pickup’s lonely Norman goes speed dating pretending he is only aged 40, his much younger date quips: “You mean you were born in 1940!?” So, the group head for Jaipur where they all move into a small, slightly tatty, Indian palace that is now the The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – “Now With Guests” – run by Dev Patel’s Sonny.
It’s a shame that in the years since Slumdog Millionaire Patel has only been in The Last Airbender, which by most accounts was execrable rubbish. Hopefully this film, directed by the very capable John Madden (Shakespeare in Love, Mrs Brown, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin) will be the beginning of something better. Faced with an onslaught of acting experience, he goes into overdrive. It’s true that Sonny is desperately trying to please his new guests, but Patel’s performance is slightly over the top. Despite this, he is still charming, amusing and likeable. Sonny also provides a pleasant romance plotline centred around his struggles with a girlfriend (Tena Desae) that his marvellously waspish mother (Lillete Dubey) is unhappy about (ie hasn’t chosen for him).
The rest of the characters variously have their cherished opinions challenged, find work, love or their true direction in life. The whole effect is heart-warming, with enough struggle and sorrow to prevent it being too saccharine. India may be watered down – only portrayed as colourful and busy, rather than chaotic and genuinely quite hard work – but this is a ‘feel good film’ not gritty reportage.
I arrived for a screening just before the film started. Looking around when the credits rolled I noticed the auditorium was packed and that most of audience seemed to have grey hair. Yes, there definitely is a shortage of films that directly address the issues of older people, but having said that The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is funny and moving enough to captivate adult audiences of all ages. This is a prime example of a movie that relies on a good story and great performances to ensure the box office is packed.
See the trailer here: