Release Date: May 4, 2012 (limited)
Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Director: John Madden
Screenwriter: Ol Parker
Starring: Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Dev Patel, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Rated: PG- 13
Official Website: Marigold Hotel
Let’s be honest, where does the intrigued for this film lay? Within it’s properly British cast. And who doesn’t love each and every one of these thespians whose careers have become a universal standard and landmark within the world of cinema? The answer should be “no one!” You either love this ensemble of elderly movie stars, or you’re wrong!
Apart from Masterpiece Theater on the big screen, there’s the setting in India that reminds us of the British upper class who enjoy retirement in the land occupied by those their ancestors oppressed for years. In an eye-opening trip where seven characters, whose financial situations are less than appealing, are outsourced to a Marigold hotel for the elderly and beautiful…titled “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” Of course, as any good story should do, the assumed luxurious vacation became a trip of unexpected surprises, trials and tribulations, all mixed with humor, drama, and culture shocks that give the film a powerful message despite its predictability.
Downton Abbey fans will be swarming to the theaters to see this rare cinematic delicacy with its list of actors and a script which resembles the best of English TV dramas – heavy on dialog and proper humor, with a tad bit of slap stick. But while this film isn’t as self serving as any British drama I remember, or as gorgeous as some Indian fantasy films have been, there’s still an appeal that extends beyond the Oscar award winning cast.
The movie is set up with brief sketches which give us a little information about each character and how their personalities will be served in the film. Setting up the story’s reference of time and place is Elelyn Greenslade (Dench) who’s constant internet blog postings immediately let us know who the narrator will be. Dealing with her recently deceased husband’s money squandering, she’s forced to sell her home and look for other means of paying off his debt. At her age, it’s not going to be easy! Luckily her experience with an unpleasant conversation with an Indian call center lands her a job mentoring the staff of one such organization in properly conversing with customers.
On the other side of things, an old married couple, the Ainslies, is dealing with their daughter’s failed investment plans which they poured the bulk of their retirement money into. However, the frustration with their daughter’s inability to full fill her debt to them is only a fraction of the marital problems the couple’s been facing for years; Jean (Wilton) is a closed minded woman who can’t find the beauty in the new and unfamiliar, while her husband Douglas (Nighy) explores the noise, chaos, and run down parts of India with enthusiasm and excitement. A precursor to a failed marriage me thinks.
Graham Dashwood, (Wilkinson) a gay man, hasn’t been to India since his youth and struggles with the idea of seeing his old lover again. Indian culture, at the time, didn’t look at the homosexual lifestyle very highly, and the two were forcibly torn apart. It’s one of the more tragic stories within the film that ends as happily as it does sad.
Madge Hardcastle (Celia Imrie) and Norman Cousins (Ronald Pickup) are a youthful pair of elders who disguise themselves as energetic, sex crazed fanatics to cover up the fact that they are two of the loneliest characters on the film’s roster.
And last but not least, we have Muriel Donnelly (Smith) whose phobia and racist attitude towards colored people generate some of the most humorously offensive moments in the film. Of course, where the other stories succeed, Donnelly’s story fails to deliver. No doubt we can all believe that old age, a bad hip, and a feeling of betrayal can dictate how senile and mean one old lady can become, and her feelings towards nonwhites is a learned behavior that’s as offensive and annoying as can be. However, her sudden transition from terrible person to a loving and motherly role was odd and out of place. Not even Maggie Smith can save this confusing character, but she does a bang up job regardless.
For me personally, I’m not one to get overly excited for movies that stay so far on the side of sentimentality that the optimism and hokey script cause my gag reflex to kick into overdrive. However, this acting crew is experienced enough to take a screenplay over run with puke invoking dialog and turn it into something meaningful and heart warming.
Likewise, the streets of Jaipur and its exceptionally busy flee markets, worn down architecture, and warm colored and sunny landscapes is an accurate depiction of a culture that cares more about living life to its fullest instead of worrying about materialistic obsessions. And at the film’s core lies this very idea – no matter how old you get or how much life experience you obtain, your never free from the burden of life’s struggles.
By the story’s end, a subliminal question is asked – are we ever too old to break out of our comfort zone and experience the new? Some are, some aren’t, but the film attempts at invoking understanding of this concept and being open to its possibility.