The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, and Bill Nighy seek to unite past with presentPhoto: Fox Searchlight Pictures
5 StarsWhy I Saw It: Smitten with Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, and Tom Wilkinson. If one of them is there, I’m there.
What I Thought: The final thirty seconds alone are worth the price of admission.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Dir. John Madden. Perf. Judi Dench, Celia Imrie, Bill Nighy, Ronald Pickup, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Penelope Wilton, Dev Patel, Tena Desae, Lillete Dubey, Diana Hardcastle. Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2012.

A collection of cash-strapped British seniors arrives in India for retirement and medical care, planning to live in a luxurious residence hotel that while exotic, turns out to be far below best…

Wistful yet grounded, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel ~ unlike its cinematic subject ~ delivers on its promise. Gorgeous, delicately-woven and well-balanced, it’s sumptuous fare for any light drama fan. If you’re partial to any of the cast, then it’s a must-see.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel rests upon familiar themes such as dreams vs. delusions, cultural clashes, societal pressure, fish out of water, and rising from the ashes. And though familiar (being universal across time and place, after all), they’re presented with great freshness and completely free of pontification.

Here we’re graced with a spectacular locale and accomplished cast indeed. India shines in glorious organized chaos, and fans of Judi Dench and Bill Nighy will get a kick out of the juxtaposition between their congenial fellowship here and the dangerous contention of Notes on a Scandal.

But ensemble casts can be tricky. If the roles are crafted to articulate as archetype and bounce against one another in clear relief, then it’s wonderful (think The Breakfast Club). On the other hand, if such strongly drawn characters are expected to bond, then maybe not so much: there’s a lot of stretching to be done and not much time to do it, and scripts often fall short (think St. Elmo’s Fire).

With Best Exotic, however, our characters enjoy functional distinction with enough compatibility that in various duos and trios they blend seamlessly and believably. When emotions shift toward and away from people and places, they do so with a gentle sway, not a jarring one-eighty. (One notable exception tends toward the ham-handed; fortunately it’s a less prominent storyline.) No one of the exceptionally accomplished cast has to to work hard, but they’re so good at what they do, it’s okay (and comparative newcomer Dev Patel does himself proud).

Finally, and oh so blissfully, we’re spared the stereotypical ageist humor of times past. The residents of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly & Beautiful employ technology, sport contemporary wardrobes, and enjoy complex and passionate relationships as matters of course. If their behaviors startle at all, it’s worth a look at one’s own biases.

The best part of Best Exotic is that it’s so applicable outside its environs. It’s in India, but works anywhere; it’s about seniors, but any age will relate (or be wise to make the attempt). The circumstances of our story are merely its device: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is about milestones and meaning, and recogizing when to stay the course… or turn left.

See it if you enjoyed Under the Tuscan Sun, Sunshine Cleaning, Calendar Girls, or Love Actually. The final thirty seconds alone are worth the price of admission.

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