The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Opens Friday at Fifth Avenue and International Village
In Shohei Imamura’s The Ballad of Narayama, villagers have a practical way of dealing with old age. Once they reach the age of 70, elders are taken to the summit of Mount Narayama and left there to die.
A rural Japanese mountain village from a century ago may seem a world away from the way in which we treat our elders today, but too often our old people are ignored, abused for their money, or simply forgotten.
These themes surface in John Madden’s new film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, minus the trek up Mt. Narayama. But beyond the occasional line—“We get up in the morning, and we do our best” or “We had been made to feel as though we couldn’t do much”—things never get dreary for long.
Stocked with the finest senior actors the U.K. has to offer, the film, based on Deborah Moggach’s novel, centers around a group of Brits who descend on the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a golden-agers resort, which promises to be a haven from the varied problems these seniors left behind in Britain.
Evelyn (Judi Dench) is a widow drowning in debt. Bickering couple Douglas and Jean (Bill Nighy and Penelope Winton) journey to Jaipur because they refuse to believe that after 30 years of civil service, a dreary council flat is all they can afford. Norman (Ronald Pickup), tired of online dating, is looking for romance, as is Madge (Celia Imrie), while High Court Judge Graham (Tom Wilkinson) is there to solve a mystery. Muriel (Maggie Smith) simply wants a quickie hip replacement, then she’s on the first plane back to England. “You know who’ll be there,” she says conspiratorially to her traveling companions on the plane, “Indians. Loads of them.”
After having her stockpile of picked eggs, pickled onions and HP sauce confiscated at the border, Muriel and the others emerge from the airport to a cacophony of noise and smells. They arrive at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and find that it’s barely a hotel at all, but a rundown remnant whose glory has long since been baked and crumbled by the hot sun. The rooms don’t even have doors, let alone mod-cons.
Host Sonny Kapoor’s (Dev Patel) welcome is no more reassuring: “Enjoy… who knows how many days you have left?” Sonny’s optimism disguises his fear of losing the building, inherited from his father, and of losing his girlfriend due to class clashes. “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel will rise, like a phoenix,” he promises.
But it is the residents who rise to the occasion. Amidst the culture confusion and colour of India, the transplants thrive and blossom. (All except Jean, whose aversion to “bacteria-laden” Indian food never improves.) Whether it’s finding love, coming out of the closet or discovering a reason to live, India provides the answers.
Chronicling their adventure is Evelyn, who teaches herself how to work the computer and even starts a blog, with entries such as: “Day 22: like Darwin’s finches, we are slowly adapting to our environment.” Her narration fills in any gaps in the stories.
There is plenty of humour, particularly from Smith’s crotchety character, and in scenes like the one wherein Madge tries to dodge a bill by posing as Princess Margaret (dead 10 years, inconveniently for Madge).
A few scenes too long, and with a spartan score, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is nonetheless a refreshingly CG-free character study of people who feel they’ve outlived their usefulness, then proved wrong.