A group of aging British citizens, who have set out to achieve various late-in-life goals in India, meet in the airport. They discover they are all staying at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel “For the elderly and beautiful.”
They arrive in India to find the hotel a dusty shadow of its former self (more shadow than former self), much like the visitors are themselves. But the elder travelers settle into a residence that seems like heaven to some but hell to two of the retirees.
Jean Ainslie (Penelope Wilton) is beginning to doubt if she has a marriage worth keeping. She becomes a giddy school girl-in-love, only to be devastated when she learns the object of her desire, Graham, is gay (Tom Wilkinson). Muriel (Maggie Smith) is put off by the food, the people and the squalor. Both can’t stand the poverty and incessant “riot of noise and color.” With a more positive attitude, Norman takes tips from the Kama Sutra, longing for a night of excitement once more, like a young man.
Sunny is the ever-optimistic hotel manager who is still not quite out from under the control of his “mommy-gee.” He is in love with a beautiful young lady, but his mother is indignant that he is not complicit with his arranged marriage. His motto is
“Everything will be alright in the end. If things are not alright, then it is not yet the end.” Hoping for a better future is entwined in our DNA, so it’s charming to see that some of the dreams the residents hope for actually come true.
Sunny speaks with a stereotyped patter of stretched truths. It seems the Indians have a tendency to make the truth fit the momentary need of the situation.
And why such chaos and squalor? “I might even become accustomed to the storm of car horns and vendors,” says Evelyn (Judi Dench) in her narration. “This riot of noise and color” are kept to a minimum in order to achieve the relaxing ambience that we so greatly enjoy in a movie. However, “Exotic Marigold” lacks a larger dramatic tension that might create a character or story arc that would lift our senses up to an Indian mountaintop of inspiration.
The movie tries to mine the same ore as “Eat, Pray, Love.” It succeeds by being more consistent and full-bodied, but fails by being less romantic than the 2010 hit movie.
Oh, the heavenly dream-come-true for Evelyn. She is hired as coach for a group of call-center employees. What an opportunity to be able to train the callers from India to speak well and give the right responses to those lucky people they call.
The movie meanders from vignette to vignette, weaving together a charming pastiche of human endeavor stories and struggles. “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” however, is a bit like the movie itself. It promises more than it can deliver. Is it a pleasant movie? “Yes, gentle reader, it is most definitely, most assuredly a most excellent movie.”
Rated PG-13 for sexual content and language.
Cedric Wood, Ph.D., L.P.C., is a counselor for individuals, couples and entire families.