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The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Directing: A-
Acting: A-
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B+
Editing: A-

We already know how these sorts of movies usually turn out: An ensemble cast of usually excellent actors are brought together with great promise, only to end up making a movie that is terrible at worst and forgettable at best. In other words, this approach to movie making doesn't usually work out well.

Not so with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which is actually better than it looks -- and it looked pretty good to begin with. Some might say that a movie about seven people retiring to Jaipur, starring some of cinema's greatest actors, is a movie for old people. Certainly old people who enjoy movies will enjoy this movie. I'm not convinced you have to be eligible for a senior discount in order to enjoy it. I was thoroughly charmed by it.

If you must know, there are a couple of token young characters in it. Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) is Sonny Kapoor, the manager of the titular hotel. He has a girlfriend working in a call center, and thus met with disapproval by his mother, who is pleasant enough but honestly superfluous to the overall story here. She factors prominently in a pivotal scene near the end of the film that is the one moment that feels like manufactured Hollywood hoo-ha, without which this film might well have been perfect.

But the rest of it is so wonderful, I'm willing to overlook it. Sonny lures a small pack of retirees from England with a beautiful brochure for this hotel he is struggling to keep afloat, the photos for which turn out to be more of a promise than a present reality. The guests are then left to decide whether or not to make the most of things.

In effect, this is a fish-out-of-water story seven times over. They're just all different fish with different ways of responding to their new environment. Although she's really no more or less prominent as a character than the rest of the cast, we get intermittent narration from Evelyn (Judi Dench), who needs the cheaper accommodations after discovering her late husband left her with significant debts. Usually voice-over narration is an obtrusive crutch, but this problem is circumvented here by having her decide to write a blog. Her entries are her narration.

Everyone else's story varies pretty significantly; they all meet on the plane to India. Graham (Tom Wilkinson) is a gay man finally returning to India to find a man he left behind forty years ago. Douglas and Jean (Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton) are a married couple who lost money on an investment in their daughter's business venture, and they have stark differences in their reaction to India. Muriel (Maggie Smith) is a bigot begrudgingly traveling to India just so she can get a hip replacement in a timely manner. Norman (Ronald Pickup) is a lonely old man looking for a hookup. Madge (Celia Imre) is an aging woman finding her own way to overcome loneliness.

This is a lot to pack in one two-hour movie, but script writer Ol Parker, adapting from the novel These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach, does an impressive job of balancing them all comfortably. And the actors are generous with their gifts of making characters warm and relatable, even when they display some reprehensible personality traits. It's a bit ironic that in a movie where an obligatory young love interest is tacked on, it's all the old people that are the reason to watch.

In fact, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is often very funny, and virtually all of those moments come from the older characters. This is a story that could have easily buckled under the weight of overbearing cheese and cliche, and honestly the script alone has a tendency to get close. It's the actors who make all the difference, turning this into a surprisingly moving, surprisingly funny story that is effectively about culture shock as a retirement plan. In the end, it looks like a pretty good place to retire to.

(L-R) Maggie Smith, Ronald Pickup, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Celia Imre, Judi Dench and Tom Wilkinson wait for transport to THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL.

Overall: A-
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