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The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

May 4, 2012
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

One might be forgive for thinking that The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is an excuse to keep aging British actors working after the Harry Potter series closed shop and there was no more call for Hogwarts professors. Remember, though, that these men and women are fixtures of the screen for a reason, and it’s not that they used to be eye candy. An excellent cast begets excellent characters, and excellent characters in a solid, bittersweet script make a memorable film.

The titular hotel is a business venture of Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel); he owns a share along with his two more successful brothers after their father died having never made the building turn a profit. He envisions a luxury retirement community so wonderful that the aging guests “will simply refuse to die.”. Of course, “luxury” may mean something different in Jaipur.

The first seven guests come from England, each for their own reason. Evelyn Greenslade (Judi Dench) is adjusting to a life without her husband for the first time since she was young. The Ainslies, Douglas and Jean (Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton) find themselves short a pension fund when their daughter’s Internet startup sputters. Would-be lothario Norman Cousins (Ronald Pickup) may improve his chances in a new environment, as may serial gold-digger Madge Hardcastle (Celia Imrie). Bitter, racist Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith) begrudgingly makes the trek for her hip replacement, toting a stash of her favorite British foods. And Graham Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson) resigns his position as a High Court judge to go chasing his memories of growing up in India.

Unlike many western movies set here, India is not magical; this is not the British Eat Pray Love. Yes, though some are on hard times at home they are still among the very well-off in Jaipur. And yes, they are white people working out some of their problems against an exotic backdrop. But just being in Asia doesn’t suddenly make everything better; there are problems here, like the conflict between Sonny’s mother (Lillete Dubey) and girlfriend (Tena Desae), or the position of the Dalit chambermaid (Seema Azmi).

No, the benefit of the journey to India is nothing inherent to the place. It’s not ineffably better than England, but it’s not worse either; it’s just different. And, as the film gently shows us, in many ways it’s the same. We all want to love and be loved. We all know the sting of feeling unappreciated and outcast, and we know how the smallest kindness can mean the world. And sometimes a radical jump outside of our comfortable surroundings can serve to highlight what we really need.

The entire cast is excellent, particularly Smith and Wilkinson. Patel seems to have been born to play the dreamy, head-in-the-clouds romantic comedy archetype, even when he’s not the lead. But the biggest star is Jaipur itself. Madden portrays it as neither mired in squalor nor a transcendent Shangri-La, but as a beautiful, vibrant city, full of light and color, reminding us that if it is not all right, it is not yet the end.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: pass.

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