If you are broke and looking for retirement look no further; The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful is -well- it is supposed to be a retirement center in Jaipur, where Westerners can outsource their elderly; the latest venture of the young entrepreneur Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel). Sonny inherited the shabby inn from his father; against his mother’s wishes, and without any previous experiences Sonny reopens it. But this is not the story of Sonny; this is the story of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’s guests, seven elderly english-folks who found themselves retired in Jaipur for some reason or other. If you can’t see where this is going, then you need to get out more.
The film opens in England, where we are introduced to the future residents of The Best Exotic Marigold. They are Mrs Greenslade (Judi Dench), who after the death of her husband has been evicted out of her London flat; Ms Donnelly (Maggie Smith), an old hag who dislikes just about anyone who isn’t whit and British; Mr and Mrs Ainslie (Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton), an unhappy couple that lost their savings by investing on their daughter’s company; Mr Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson), who spent his youth in India and has since longed to be back; Ms Hardcastle (Velia Irme) and Mr Cousins (Ronald Pickup) to elderly singles still open to the possibility of finding a meaningful relationship out there. They are as colorfully depressed as a group of old English-folk can possibly be. And always refer to each other by the title of Mr or Mrs as if anything else would be too informal, too personal, to even consider.
In contrast Sonny- their host- is a lively youth with an uncanny ability to spin any situation in an intoxicatingly optimistic manner. There are also Sonny’s girlfriend Sunaina (Tena Desae) and her brother Jay (Sid Makkar); they work at a call-center and essentially represent the growing social mobility for India’s youth.
Using culture clash as a source for comedy is nothing new- I’m willing to bet it is the second oldest form of comedy after the banana peel- but the film makes the extra effort and overlaps three forms of culture clashes. One is between the dry and monotonous lifestyle of suburban England with that of the wild and colorful life found in India’s urban jungles; a second is between the aging pre-Boomer generation to whom a restful ending still holds meaning against the new-youth to whom life has no limit; and a third between those who enjoy life and those who don’t, regardless of their origin.
The film was directed by John Phillip Madden, whose career- aside from Shakespeare in Love- hasn’t been what it should. It is rare to find a director who can overlap broad universal emotions, like homesickness and wonder, with deeply personal feelings, of loss and boundaries. Having a cast heavy with British veterans surely helped. But most amazingly - though- is that the film manages to do something interesting with all of them. These are characters, not cut-outs. And while they are all in the same situation, they each react in their own peculiar way. On one end there is Mr Dashwoon, Graham, who had lived in India is more than open to its splendor and crowds. At the other end is Mrs Ainslie who shuts herself in the hotel room because- according to her- if it isn’t England it isn’t worth it. Everyone else fall somewhere in the middle.
Yet the most important thing about this film is much simpler; this film will make you smile. Even its name- The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel- delightful ring to it.