When a film has a dream cast led by Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith, and Bill Nighy, you can’t go far wrong, and that is exactly the case with Ol Parker’s adaptation of the novel by prolific British television and screenwriter Deborah Moggach, whose credits include the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice. Who better to direct this piece that John Madden, the man responsible for such films as Mrs. Brown, Shakespeare in Love, andProof?
Please forgive me, then, for not having fallen in love with the movie, as many others have; I find it a bit too calculated and pat. It does not condescend to older people, thank goodness, or play them as cute, although it does take steps in that direction. It also ties things up in a neat little package with a red bow on top, but one would expect no less from a feel-good movie that’s intended to please a “mature” demographic.
The story doesn’t start out on a lighthearted note—quite the opposite, as we meet the central characters, all British senior citizens whose lives have stalled by circumstance or been undercut by financial woes. The disparate group includes a widow who’s flustered by the computer age (Dench), a professor who feels he’s in a rut (Wilkinson), a cranky, bigoted woman who can’t afford the hip operation she desperately needs (Smith), a cougar in search of a sugar daddy (Celia Imre), and a couple who have lost their nest egg (Nighy and Penelope Wilton). They are all susceptible to the advertising of a hotel in Jaipur that promises luxurious accommodations at reasonable rates. This turns out to be wishful thinking on the part of the establishment’s youthful manager, played by Dev Patel, whom you will remember from Slumdog Millionaire.
How the various British ex-pats deal with the harsh reality that greets them at The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is the crux of the film: some adapt readily, some resist, and others create new lives for themselves amidst the colorful chaos of modern-day India. It’s all very genteel, with a sprinkling of sexual comedy involving a guest (Ronald Pickup) who refuses to submit to advancing years.
Stereotypically, this is the kind of movie you’d encourage your parents or grandparents to see. It acknowledges the slings and arrows of senior citizenry but offers hope, in a series of idealized solutions to some of the problems older people face. In the hands of actors we don’t already love and respect, it could be deadly; with this array of old pros, it’s hard to resist, and yet I did, somewhat. I don’t mind being manipulated, but I mind being aware of it.