'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' is predictable but a pleasure
"The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," with an all-star cast featuring Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, is a quietly charming film about seven pensioners who relocate to a hotel in India.
Seattle Times movie critic
'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,' with Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton, Dev Patel, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup. Directed by John Madden, from a screenplay by Ol Parker, based on the novel "These Foolish Things" by Deborah Moggach. 122 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sexual content and language. Guild 45th, Pacific Place, Lincoln Square.
"The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" is that rarity: a movie that sets out to quietly charm an older audience, and does so. Based on a novel by Deborah Moggach and featuring an all-star team of British actors, it's the story of seven pensioners who, for various reasons, relocate from the U.K. to a retirement hotel in India, lured by a brochure that promises exotic yet sophisticated comfort for a modest fee. Upon arrival, however, they find the hotel rather worse for wear, and the proprietor — an excitable young man named Sonny (Dev Patel, of "Slumdog Millionaire") — eager to please yet lacking in resources.
There's little that's surprising about the film — everyone ends up pretty much where you'd guess — but that predictable quality becomes part of the pleasure of watching it, like a book that's happily reread. After a somewhat muddled opening as the seven main characters are quickly introduced, we find our way to India and get to know them. Evelyn (Judi Dench) is a recent widow determined to make a fresh start; Graham (Tom Wilkinson), a judge, has some unfinished business in India; Muriel (Maggie Smith), a retired housekeeper, merely wants to obtain a cut-rate hip replacement; married couple Douglas (Bill Nighy) and Jean (Penelope Wilton) are broke (they lent their retirement money to their daughter) and unhappy; and singletons Norman (Ronald Pickup) and Madge (Celia Imrie) are merely looking for love. Each experiences India in a different way; not everyone is still at the hotel by the final scene, but all have been, in some way, transformed.
Director John Madden ("Shakespeare in Love") takes time to show us the Day-Glo colors of the city, the vaguely meandering appeal of the hotel and its crumbling, humid hallways, and the faces of his fine cast, all of whom know just what to do with their roles. Smith's playing a low-market Dowager Countess of Grantham, sneering at the help in the way only she can, and Wilton's stuck as the requisite complainer, but the others find warmth and emotion in their roles, particularly Dench, Wilkinson and the dryly exuberant Nighy. They're reminded, as are we, of something Wilkinson's character says he's learned from the people of India: that "life is a privilege, not a right."
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org