By Jeanie Keogh
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, starring several acting legends, and directed by British director John Madden should be on your must-see list for 2012. Madden, who is best known for his directorial role in Shakespeare in Love (1998) and Proof (2005), has the mark of an artful and considerate director. He tells a story with multiple protagonists without creating boredom or confusion or preference for one character over another.
The story is comically simple. Seven retired British folks sign up for what promises to be the experience of a lifetime: an extended (or rather indefinite) stay at an Indian hotel that caters to the elderly. What awaits them when they arrive is a decrepit building and an overly-enthusiastic young Indian man that has his sights set on restoring the hotel his father left him as his legacy.
The characters are beautifully flawed. Graham (Tom Wilkinson) leaves his 32-year career as a lawyer to return to India to find his lost lover from 40 years ago. Madge (Celia Imrie) fancifully gives up her tenure as her grandchildren’s babysitter to find a wealthy fifth husband. Douglas (Bill Nighy) and Jean (Penelope Wilton), retired civil servants whose daughter’s internet start-up has left them with too few savings to afford more than a cramped English flat, choose India as a preferred option. Muriel (Maggie Smith), a fierce racist and medical tourist, equips herself with pickles, HP sauce and English biscuits and braves herself for the stink of curry.
Evelyn (Judi Dench), a recently-widowed housewife who has never done anything without her husband, finds herself at a loss after the sale of her house to absolve her husband’s debts. Norman (Ronald Pickup), a lonely kid-at-heart who is afraid he has lost his way with women along with the realization that he will never again be young. And Sonny (Dev Patel), the hotel proprietor who is desperately trying to convince his mother, his girlfriend and his hotel guests that his grandiose dream to create a wonderful haven for retired Westerners is not a foolish waste of time and money.
What we witness is uplifting and against the grain: older people who are exemplary at self-discovery and reinvention. As the characters learn to deal with the assault of India’s in-your-face humanity, they also learn the lessons India has to teach them: humility, confidence in love, recompense…and how to eat chapati without spitting it out or dishonouring someone’s family. The adjustment is at times humorous, at others, deeply moving. The characters pick themselves up, dust themselves off (quite literally) and begin to truly live by untying rather than tying up the loose ends of their lives.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: Movie Trailer
Madden isn’t the only one who deserves artist credit. A stellar cast of Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson and Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) show their mastery and deliver concise, fresh performances. Dench, who acts as narrator by way of her blog posts about her adventure, unpacks their fears of ageing, their thoughts on whether seniors are incapable of change or just too tired to see their efforts end in disappointment, and their doubts about whether what they gave their lives to was worth it.
But as Sonny, the ever-positive dreamer says: “Everything will work out in the end…and if things aren’t working out, that’s because it’s not the end yet.”
Be sure to watch The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in theaters starting Friday, May 4th. Let’s help the movie become a huge commercial success and encourage film makers to develop more stories starring older adults that we can relate to.