The filmmakers of the British Isles excel at making very specific types of film: horror flicks, realistic dramas and feel-good romantic comedies. With a name like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and featuring a glittering ensemble of the UK’s finest actors of a certain age, you can probably guess which category the subject of this review falls into.
Displaying a similar lightness of tone as dependable British hits such as Love Actually and Four Weddings And A Funeral, Marigold Hotel is a pleasant, easy-going evening’s entertainment that delivers everything you could rightly expect of it. There are laughs. Arguments. Romance. A little bit of tragedy, a smattering of pathos, a sprinkling of poignancy. It’s undemanding and a tad predictable, but there’s nothing wrong with that – especially when the dialogue is as sparky as it often is here.
Marigold Hotel begins by introducing a disparate selection of well-to-do ladies and gentlemen, who’ve all reached retirement age. There’s Norman (Ronald Pickup) who’s still looking for love – or at least sex – in all the wrong places, the equally randy Madge (Celia Imrie), unhappily married couple Douglas and Jean (respectively, Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton), widowed housewife Evelyn (Judi Dench), ex-lawyer Graham (Tom Wilkinson) and wheelchair-bound bigot Muriel (Maggie Smith).
For their own separate reasons, this group of strangers all find themselves staying at the Exotic Marigold Hotel in Jaipur. Presented as a freshly-restored idyll in its brochures, the reality is exactly the opposite – ineptly run by its young proprietor Sonny (Dev Patel), the place is a rambling shambles of leaking taps, missing doors and peeling paint.
Inevitably, the residents have their own reactions to this dilapidated retirement home – Douglas relishes the opportunity to explore a different culture, while his wife hides in her room, horrified at the bustling chaos outside. Madge and Norman go off looking for rich widows to lure into bed, with varying degrees of success. Graham goes in search of a man he fell in love with as a youth, and so on.
As is often the case in these ensemble films, some characters’ stories are more interesting than others. Graham’s search for his lost love is quite poignant, while the bitterness between Douglas and Jean is comparatively dull. Dev Patel brings some youthful energy to the film, but his storyline, which involves a forward-thinking girlfriend and a disapproving mother, is the stuff of soap opera cliché.
It’s no coincidence that the character with the biggest character arc is also the most interesting – over the course of the movie, Muriel gradually transforms from an ornery racist to an emotionally generous old sage, and Maggie Smith’s performance is fantastic.
Ol Parker’s script, an adaptation of the novel These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach, is warm and witty, in spite of its flaws, and John Madden’s direction’s fine, even if the film’s a little too long at more than 120 minutes.
A random observation in passing: there’s a really weird bit where Bill Nighy and Judi Dench’s characters stand and stare at a street band for what seems like an eternity. It’s as though the editor forgot to click the cut icon in Avid, and the two actors are left awkwardly staring at the band, then each other, and then back to the band. If you do go to the cinema to watch Marigold Hotel, be sure to keep an eye out for it. It’s really strange.
Overall, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a perfectly watchable example of the kind of comedy drama fluff we British seem to make so well. It deals with potentially heavy topics – the onset of old age, past regrets, death – with a light touch (though it makes no mention of what fate awaits the elderly of Jaipur, who aren’t blessed with the engorged bank balances of the film’s WASP characters), and its predictable plot is elevated by a decent script, an engaging location and, most of all, a great cast.