“Everything will turn out alright in the end, and if it’s not alright (at present), then it’s not the end!’ With this line Sonny reassures his English guests in Jaipur that things will get better in the dilapidated hotel from the era of the Raj to which they have chosen to retire. Well, actually when it comes to that hotel, things could only get better, but I digress.
John Madden has directed lots of good films, and this is certainly one of them. Despite the fact that its themes are old age, what one should do in one’s waning years, and even death, this is a light-hearted sweet movie full of great acting, great actors, and great one liners. It made me smile and laugh at various junctures.
The plot is simple enough— here’s the summary from the Fox Searchlight folks. “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel follows a group of British retirees who decide to “outsource” their retirement to less expensive and seemingly exotic India. Enticed by advertisements for the newly restored Marigold Hotel and bolstered with visions of a life of leisure, they arrive to find the palace a shell of its former self. Though the new environment is less luxurious than imagined, they are forever transformed by their shared experiences, discovering that life and love can begin again when you let go of the past.”
Let’s talk about the cast first. The young manager/owner of the Best Exotic Hotel you will recognize as one of the stars of Slum Dog Millionaire–Dev Patel. And he is winsome enough. But add to that Dame Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, and the delightful Bill Nighy and you have an all star cast. But that’s not all. Mix in the sights, sounds, smells, colors of a small portion of India teeming with people, animals, heat, food, smiles, religions and put all these wonderful actors in that setting and one fine curry is cooked up pretty quickly. And as it turns out, it really is alright in the end.
For two hours and four minutes we are enchanted by being taken to another world, but with familiar faces. And some of the out-sourced Brits are handling the cultural transplantation better than others. They bring with them all their prejudices, assumptions and fears about India and Indians.
But they also can show self-effacing sides such as when one of the women is able to say–’I'm single by choice. Actually somebody else’s choice’ or when the character Tom Wilkinson plays says ‘I’m gay. Well really more in theory than in practice.’ And there is even some room for honesty– for example when the wife of Bill Nighy’s character says ‘When I want you’re opinion I’ll give it to you.’ Or when Dame Judi responds to the question of the endlessly complaining wife to her husband– ‘how shall we celebrate our 40th anniversary’ by suggesting ‘How about a moment of silence’?
Some of the reviewers have rightly noted that this seems more like a stellar West End play than a movie about India because in fact there is very little sampling of the countryside or city-scapes of India. The focus is rather singularly on the hotel and its immediate environs and it could be staged as a play. Don’t go to this movie expecting to see the famous sights of India, as it is not a travelogue. It’s about endings and ending well, not about the joy of journeys.
And for folks like me who are over 60 this is in various way a painfully honest look at old age with both its disappointments and hopes fully in view. I choose to agree with Sonny– ‘since things will turn alright in the end, if it’s not alright, then this must not be the end.’ Where there’s life there is still hope of something good happening. Amen to that.