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The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Sunsetting Where the Sun Never Sets

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Here’s everything you need to know about The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: It stars Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, and Celia Imrie. If that list, containing some of the most consistently watchable British actors of their generations, piques your interest—and really, how can it not?—then don’t bother asking more. Because the film that brings them together is a lightweight comedy-drama that will not rank high on any of their resumes.

The average age of the cast (which also includes Ronald Pickup, whose previous work I am not familiar with) is 68, which may lead you to assume that age has something to do with the story. As it does. All play British citizens who, for various reasons, cannot afford to retire in London. They meet at the alternative, a surprisingly hotel in India that advertises itself as a resort for the “elderly and beautiful.” Apparently not having lived long enough to learn that if an opportunity seems too good to be true, it probably isn’t, they arrive in Jaipur to find that the hotel is not yet in the condition pictured on the brochure.

“You Photoshopped it!” one of them accuses the young and intensely optimistic manager (Slumdog Millionaire’s Dev Patel), who replies “I offered a vision of the future.” Not the kind of thing you say to someone who complains that “At my age I don’t even buy green bananas.”

There’s the setup. The rest of the movie (when it’s not wasting our time with Patel’s efforts to rebuild this ruined hotel that has been in his family for over a century) follows our stars as they variously look for love, meaningful use for their remaining years, and peace with nagging old memories.

If it sometimes gets a wee bit depressing, apparently that’s left over from its source, the novel These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach, described by numerous online reviewers as a dour tale of outsourced retirees. It’s been Cocoon-ized on the way to the screen; there are no aliens dispensing youth serum but director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) and scripter Ol Parker do their best to keep you from thinking about any of it, at least until a feel-good ending that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense (it involves someone with no money coming up with a bunch of money) but frankly is exactly what a film like this requires.

It’s said that a movie star is an actor you can’t take your eyes off of onscreen even if they’re not doing much of anything. That the cast makes this two hours diverting is often in spite of the script rather than because of it. There’s a scene with Wilkinson playing cricket with some street kids that I remember better than his big emotional scene. Nighy is either misused or cast against type as a man in a loveless marriage, but I still looked forward to his every appearance. Imrie and Pickup takes characters that must have sounded horrible on their script pages—in a nutshell, horny seniors—and make them human instead of cheap jokes. Downton Abbey’s Penelope Wilton may deserve the most kudos for actual acting simply because she plays the one unlikeable character of the bunch. As for Dames Smith and Dench, well, they’ve never ruined a film before and probably couldn’t if they tried.

There’s certainly a place for a movie that takes a real look at the hard choices offered to many people in their post-working years. But aside from a line of dialogue that “There are many other cultures that don’t like old people,” this blandly pleasant movie isn’t it.

Watch the trailer for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

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