Directed by John Madden, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel really is a special film. In a day and age of special effects drowning out humanity and youth being upheld above all else, a movie about older folks and hope seems like a tough sell. But the spirit of Madden’s picture is alive and well, especially thanks to the stunning performances from a remarkable ensemble and a beautiful screenplay by Ol Parker.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is based on the book These Foolish Things by English writer Deborah Moggach. Apparently many studios passed on Parker’s screenplay based on the Moggach book because they considered it “unmarketable,” but its eventual release is a gift to filmgoers hungry for a tale of humanity, hope and resolve as life carries on its cruel business.
The film opens by introducing its characters by name. Evelyn (Judi Dench) is a recently widowed housewife who has only been defined by her marriage. She is tech savvy and has a blog, but she’s looking for a way to get on with her life after her husband’s passing. There’s Graham (Tom Wilkinson), a judge who spent eighteen years in India and is retiring to move back.
There’s Norman (Ronald Pickup), an aging playboy looking to get some of his mojo back. Madge (Celia Imrie) is looking for another man, while Muriel (Maggie Smith) is a retired housekeeper with some racist tendencies. And there’s Jean (Penelope Wilton) and Doug (Bill Nighy), a couple who lost their retirement after investing in their daughter’s Internet start-up company.
This group of characters heads to India for their own reasons and wind up lured by an advertisement to the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. The manager (Dev Patel) has problems of his own, but it’s the culture clashes and the newfound hope that forms the basis of this motion picture. Each character goes through his or her own mini-revolution, with some finding optimism and others finding disaster in new lands.
The cast is absolutely stellar from top to bottom, with Dench probably leading the way. She is the hopeful core of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and the narrator of sorts, using her blog posts to uplift readers (and viewers) with cheerful chestnuts about life and diving right into the waves. Her character even gets a job in a calling centre and teaches the workers something about relating to those on the other end of the line.
Humanity is the element that runs through Madden’s film, a refreshing element in a world generally populated by aliens and superheroes these days. It is true that the special effects barrage of the summer may make this picture seem more enticing than it actually is, but it’s also true that The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is an exceptional movie.
Take Wilkinson’s character, for instance. He is at the centre of the film’s most heartbreaking and humane sequences. From the moment when he again encounters his ex-lover to a staggeringly beautiful moment he shares with the confused and desperate Jean, his character’s stunning “today’s the day” attitude builds to a lovely but blue dénouement.
Madden and cinematographer Ben Davis do a wonderful job capturing the marvellous beauty of India, venturing from the more impoverished neighbourhoods (complete with cricket-playing kids) to the business world that houses Evelyn’s new life. The hotel itself, a marvel of ramshackle delight, is also beautifully rendered.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a treat. It is wonderfully acted by some of the best performers in the business and features a hopeful storyline that generates smiles. It is clichéd at times, but the quality of the performances and the beauty of the tale rises above any of the potential problems and presents one heartening and truth-oriented motion picture.