Featuring a cast which includes most of the senior members of British Equity, the movie quickly introduces us to Evelyn (Judi Dench), a widower whose husband left behind a great debt, Douglas and Jean (Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton), a retired couple without a nest egg, the infirm Muriel (Maggie Smith), Supreme Court judge Graham (Tom Wilkinson) who impulsively leaves the bench, aging lothario Norman (Ronald Pickup) and Madge (Celia Imrie), a much married woman in search of a sugar daddy.
Their common link is uncertainty over how to spend their golden years. Individually they come up with he idea to outsource their retirements to a senior’s hotel in Jaipur, but what looked like an Eden on the brochure turns out to be a dilapidated guesthouse run by the feckless Sonny (“Slumdog Millionaire’s” Dev Patel). Together and individually this band of ex-pats explore life in their adopted country.
“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” offers up of fish-out-of-water clichés—“If I can’t pronounce it, I’m not eating it!”—mixed with a story about rebirth, regrets and the Kama Sutra. Despite the setting, it’s a bland blend, but the likes of Dench, Nighy, Smith and Wilkinson salvage some real humanity from the script’s saccharine offerings.
Wilkinson, as a gay man who travels back to India to find his first love, is particularly effective. He effortlessly underplays the character of Gordon, the staid lawyer who bears guilt for an indiscretion that may have ruined another’s person’s life, portraying a man who sat in judgment of others all the while judging himself. It’s a marvel of subtlety, richly detailed, yet simultaneously delicate.
The rest of the cast of old pros hand in good work, but aren’t given the same caliber of material to work with.
Perhaps it’s because there are too many stories colliding on screen, filling up the running time with details and unnecessary scenes–in addition to the retiree’s stories there are also Sonny’s subplots about love, family and trying to save the hotel. Or perhaps it’s because the filmmakers are tying to present something for everyone, but “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” feels like there is a really good movie hidden away in the layers of the film struggling to get out.