Adapted from a novel, These Foolish Things, by Deborah Moggach, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a finely nuanced film portraying seven British retirees: a widow (Judi Dench) whose late husband drove her into debt, a bigoted nanny/bookkeeper who is resigned to get a discounted hip replacement in India (Maggie Smith), retired judge (Tom Wilkinson) looking for his long lost lover, a sex fiend bachelor Norman (Ronald Pickup), a Blanche Dubois-type femme fatale (Celia Imrie), and a married couple who do not want to live in reduced circumstances in “senior living” (Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton).
The hotel in Jaipur, India is owned and managed by Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel from “Slumdog Millionaire”) who longs to disguise the decrepit hotel’s faulty plumbing and broken phones with an optimism designed to soothe these seven Brits whose families have “outsourced” them. “Everything will be alright in the end, and if it is not alright, it is not the end,” he reassures his guests who have high expectations for living their golden years in India. The hotel will be the new home for “people from countries that don’t care about their old people”–for the elderly and beautiful.
Adjustments need to be made–not only to the exotic environment of India but also to the equally unexplored terrain of aging. Instead of a maudlin discourse on loss and life’s passing, the film is increasingly appealing and buoyant. The marvel revealed is the resilience of the human spirit, the openness to new experiences and the risk taken to dive into the unknown. At times this sweet, often hilarious, movie hovers on being sentimental since everyone is trying to figure out what to do with the years remaining in life. To assume defeat from what every one of us as individuals wants suggests we’re not asking the right questions. In the end “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is a shout-out to chasing your dreams, regardless of age.
Younger people might not appreciate this film as much as someone closer to retirement but the hopeful message is it’s never too late to make things happen. Wish fulfillment is in short supply and the target audience for “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” will remember the sweetness and folly of these six Brits for a very long time.