|Image: 20th Century Fox|
When you see a cast list like this on a poster covered in smiling faces and sunshine, it’s tough not to make a couple of assumptions. First: they probably had a great time making it. Second: it might best be suited for a Sunday afternoon DVD viewing rather than a trip to the cinema. But we put assumptions aside to check it out.
A group of retirees decide to relocate to a retirement hotel in India. Widowed Evelyn (Judi Dench) wants a new start. Douglas (Bill Nighy) and Jean (Penelope Wilton) are desperate to avoid the depressing English old folk’s home. Madge (Celie Imrie) is looking for a wealthy new husband, while Norman (Ronald Pickup) is looking for a last fling. Graham (Tom Wilkinson) is looking to reconnect with a childhood love, while racist Muriel (Maggie Smith) is reluctantly going to get a hip operation. But while the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel may be unfinished, owner Sonny (Dev Patel) is desperate to succeed and prove his worth to his girlfriend, his mother, and himself.
As we said, you’ve got some idea of what you’re getting with a film like this. You’ve got the quality cast, you’ve got the fish-out-water plot with the English thesps exploring the exotic locale, and you’ve got a big heart beneath it all. We can report that, in the best possible sense, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is what you’d expect. The cast is excellent and the script by Ol Parker (based on the novel These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach) is witty and provides a couple of much-appreciated twists on a familiar formula. It’s refreshing to see a film about the issues facing retirees today even if John Madden is occasionally guilty of getting too close to shooting a tourism advert for India.
Dench enjoys a rare lead and, after so many films that have taken advantage of her frostiness, it’s nice to see her show her softer side. Nighy plays the down-trodden but slowly blooming Douglas very nicely, though it would have been better if Wilton’s spiteful Jean was a little more developed. Wilkinson does lovelorn well, and Imrie and Pickup have great fun as the prowling senior singles. Finally there’s Patel (Slumdog Millionaire), who gives an energetic, funny and appealing turn as the desperate but determined Sonny, and Dame Maggie Smith, the not-so-secret weapon, puncturing the general air of luvviness beautifully as the acidic Muriel.
At two hours it stretches the material a little thin but it’s difficult to complain too much when the time is spent in such good company. It may not be especially challenging or surprising but it’s an tremendously warm, pleasant, and enjoyable film.
In the best possible way, it’s exactly what you’d expect.