A fun series of short pre-credit vignettes introduces the various characters and their situations which act as a catalyst for their desire to leave behind a drab existence in the UK. The six retirees, all in various life-changing situations, are enticed by the sumptuous sounding and newly-restored ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ in India as a means of living out the rest of their days.
Upon arrival, their new domicile is less than a sum of its parts (to say the place needs a lick of paint is somewhat of an understatement) but the majority of the ex-pats decide to make the best of their new life in the sun and explore the possibilities of seeking that life-changing experience such a country offers.
Ostensibly, this may look like the kind of film which holds little appeal to any other demographic other than the age group of the film’s protagonists. To write this off as specialist fare would be a shame though, as this is a surprisingly vibrant and entertaining tale which taps into a number of universal themes while offering a humorous and very appealing glimpse into the many challenges and obstacles synonymous with those twilight years.
The casting is absolutely note-perfect, and perhaps unsurprisingly (given the calibre of talent involved), everyone delivers first-rate performances. As to be expected, Dame Judi Dench is outstanding here as the widow determined to life her new life to the fullest. She also provides the sagely voice-over (derived from a blog she writes) which binds the film together in an emotionally satisfying manner. Husband and wife Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton (who were last seen as a married couple in Shawn of the Dead) are excellent too, and Wilson’s discontentment and adverse reaction to her new way of life comes across in a very believable, if unflattering, way. Dame Maggie Smith adds much of the comic relief as the infirmed, xenophobic ex-housemaid who intends to live off a English diet consisting mainly of Hobnobs and Branston Pickle, and Tom Wilkinson makes a huge impression (and adds a big dollop of pathos to the film) as the ex-judge who is harbouring an ulterior motive for making the trip.
The youngest star (by a considerable gap) Dev Patel is the boyish, energetic but lovelorn hotel proprietor, and he manages to make a solid impression too. He’s a nice counterbalance to the rest of the team and his own character arc never feels like it’s been purposely shoe-horned in there in an attempt to bait a younger audience. Patel’s involvement may invoke the memory of Slumdog Millionaire for some, and much like film, ‘Marigold Hotel’ really captures the vibrant, bustling and heady landscape of contemporary India, presenting a place which will almost certainly encourage some cinemagoers, post-viewing, to explore potential holiday locations there.
The film hardly reinvents the cinematic wheel (it’s easy to guess the fate and outcome of the majority of the group when they hit Indian soil, particular Smith’s journey) but it’s hard not to get completely swept up in that world and become engaged with these characters. It’s a leisurely-told tale which, like some of its elder stars, ambles along gently until the predictable but no less charming ending.
In a cinematic fortnight which has offered up an assortment of limp, generic Hollywood product, a stay at The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel may offer a welcome respite for many.