- Running time:
- 124 minutes
- Judi Dench -
- Evelyn Greenslade
- Maggie Smith -
- Muriel Donnelly
- Bill Nighy -
- Douglas Ainslie
- Penelope Wilton -
- Jean Ainslie
- Tom Wilkinson -
- Graham Dashwood
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (* * * out of four, PG-13, opens Friday) is a refreshing, mature fairy tale with a top-notch ensemble cast.
A half-dozen British expatriates retire to Jaipur, India, and fall into an intoxication induced by the country's riotous colors, sounds and sensual feasts. The audience also will fall under its spell, spun mostly by the venerable actors, easily some of the U.K.'s best.
Based on the novel by Deborah Moggach about a group of British retirees who opt to "outsource" their retirement to less pricey digs, the film is by turns spry, hopeful and contemplative — much like its characters.
The retirees have a few things in common: They are slightly lost souls in search of reinvention and a rewarding life in their sunset years. A few seek adventure, others seek human connection, and some just want the luxury they can't afford in England and believe they'll find at a hotel aimed at "the elderly and beautiful." But, there's the rub: The Marigold Hotel bears little resemblance to the palatial photos featured in its ads.
Hotel manager Sonny (Slumdog Millionaire's Dev Patel) has big dreams, impeccable manners and a prodigious vocabulary. But his ambitions outstrip his finances. His goal is to convert his late father's struggling hotel, fallen into disrepair, into a place of such appeal that the folks who move there will simply refuse to die.
Though the place has an impressive courtyard and great bones, it lacks such basics as bedroom doors, functional faucets and connected telephones. Forget about amenities.
Some of the British expats take these limitations in stride, focusing on the exotic landscape and the friendly locals. Others find them endlessly irritating.
In the latter category is Muriel (Maggie Smith). She has gone to India mostly for the low-cost hip replacement surgery. She arrives as a crotchety, closed-minded racist, but India has an intriguing effect on her.
The only married couple among the group is sharply divided in their view of life in Jaipur. Douglas (Bill Nighy) embraces his surroundings, while his wife, Jean (Penelope Wilton), is perennially sour.
Evelyn (Judi Dench) is a bereaved and cash-strapped widow. She pluckily refuses an offer to move in with her son in Britain, masters the computer and begins writing a blog, in which she muses: "The only real failure is the failure to try." And within that context, she has succeeded, as have her compatriots.
Graham (Tom Wilkinson) is a retired judge with a deeply personal reason for coming to India, where he spent his childhood years. Madge (Celia Imrie) is looking for love — provided it comes with deep pockets. Also seeking romance is randy Norman Cousins (ostensibly named for the American author) and played by Ron Pickup, which is a perfect last name for his ambitions in the film.
The film is about 15 minutes too long, and the path of Douglas and Jean's marriage seems unlikely as presented. The story ties up neatly, in the happily-ever-after vein of fairy tales.
A delightful, droll and entertaining comedy of manners with an estimable cast, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel offers an ideal low-tech alternative to the special-effects laden Avengers.
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