Movie Review: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel Approaches Aging with Humor and Compassion

Judi Dench leads an ensemble cast in "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel". (Photo: Fox Searchlight)

Judi Dench leads an ensemble cast in "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel". (Photo: Fox Searchlight)

“Have we traveled far enough that we can finally allow our own tears to fall?” Judi Dench asks us in “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”.

Indeed, that is the question of the hour in this delightful comedy/drama that follows seven aging British characters to India, where they have all chosen to ‘retire’ to the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Graham Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson) is a lawyer who is searching for redemption; Jean Ainslie (Penelope Wilton of “Downton Abbey” fame) and Douglas Ainslie (Bill Nighy) are a married couple trying to stretch a meager retirement fund and look to India as a cheaper alternative; Evelyn Greenslade (Judi Dench) is newly widowed and frustrated by the debt her husband left behind and having to lean on her children; Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith) travels to the East for an affordable hip replacement; Madge Hardcastle (Celia Imrie) is tired of playing babysitter for her grandchildren and leaves for India to find a wealthy husband; and finally, Ronald Pickup (Norman Cousins) is a man looking for youth and vigor to attract the opposite sex.

Though there are quite a few storylines on screen, each one is well fleshed out and blends in with the others seamlessly. Because in a nutshell, they all have one thing in common: They’re searching for the truth about themselves. Each character is running to India to find safety or ease, but because of the close proximity in the less-than-spectacular living quarters and the culture shock of a new country, they push into each other’s ‘comfort zones’. And the results prove hilarious at times.

Muriel, played brilliantly by Smith, is a believer in old Britain, closed-minded and–let’s face it–racist. Upon finding a hotel staff person in her room, she turns away and says wide-eyed and deadpan, “There’s an Indian in my room”. Eating Indian food is another upsetting venture for her, to which she retorts, “If I can’t pronounce it, I don’t eat it”.

Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel), the incredibly young hotel manager trying desperately to prove himself, is another source of amusement, as his frantic babbling and bumbling ways try to outshadow the hotel’s disappointing amenities. When called out on the fact that the brochure does not match the reality, he replies, “I have offered a vision of the future”. His girlfriend is played by newcomer Tena Desae and is the only real cliché in the movie–the boy must prove to an old-fashioned mom that his modern girfriend is good enough to marry. Still, there is humor in that storyline as well. Madge and Ronald are the other two characters that provide light-hearted moments as they try to come to terms with their age and what that means for relationships and sexuality.

Evelyn, Graham, and the Ainslies are the deeper roles and provide tear-jerking moments. Dench affords Evelyn, who wants to find independence, quiet grace and depth. Dench also serves as the movie’s narrator. Graham is played by Wilkinson as a stoic and measured man who has a pained past. And the Ainslies, who have a strained marriage, are sorely tested in India, because there are no familiar faces or distractions. Jean, who hates India, is easy to dismiss but hard not to relate to. Douglas, who wants to find the positive in India, has to come to terms with his denial.

Every character is dealt with respect and a liberal dose of reality. And while this movie is aimed at an older audience, the younger generations can come away enchanted and entertained as well. Not to mention, you can learn a few truths about life that remain poignant whether you are 70 or 25. As Evelyn states, “All we know about the future is that it will be different. What we fear is that it will be the same. We should celebrate the changes.”

Sonam Hajela is a contributing writer to Divanee.com.