Best Exotic Marigold Hotel


Exotic Locale, Golden Cast

Main Cast: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy

Director: John Madden

There seems to be a perception floating out there in the world that acting is an either/or proposition.  Either you can act or you cannot act.  As if it is a talent one is born with that never changes.  Young actors get written off by lousy early roles and everyone thinks Meryl Streep emerged from the womb able to play an old Jewish rabbi without a flaw.  Somewhere along the way we as a collective have lost appreciation for acting as a craft to be honed and perfected over years of study and practice.  That and our abject fear of putting anyone older than 25 on screen (they might have a wrinkle!) in more than a bit role has led us to large numbers of movies with bad young actors who never get the chance to improve.  Rare indeed is the ensemble piece filled to the brim with stars over the age of 55 – rare in the way diamonds are rare.  The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel glitters with the finely cut and polished talents of some of the finest working actors in the world of film.

The movie begins with an introduction of the characters.  Each is an elderly English man or woman who for some reason – usually financial – finds themselves en route to India to spend their retirement at the smartly advertised Marigold Hotel.  When they arrive they discover that those advertisements were stretching the truth more than a little and their accommodations are a little run down, a little understaffed and a whole lot less luxurious than they were expecting.  Only the exuberant hotel manager (played by Dev Patel from Slumdog Millionaire) keeps them all from fleeing at first sight.

The set-up is simple, the cast is simply outstanding.  Judi Dench plays Evelyn, our narrator and primary character.  She has come to India following the death of her husband and the realization that her perceived financial security was but a mirage.  Maggie Smith plays Muriel, a crotchety bigot who has come for a hip replacement surgery that she would have had to wait eons to get at home.  Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton play Douglas and Jean, a married couple who unfortunately lost their retirement savings to their daughter’s internet start-up company.  Celia Imrie is Madge, coming to India for adventure and, hopefully, a wealthy new husband.  Only Tom Wilkinson, playing Graham, has come to India because he truly wants to be there.  He lived there in his youth and has decided it’s time to retire from his job in academia and return.  Each character has his or her own very individual reaction to the vastly different culture into which they are thrust without benefit of their expected luxury buffer.

What makes The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel special isn’t the plot.  Though it has a large number of imaginative and thoughtful nuances, it’s mostly fish out of water and coping with aging.  What makes it special is the way director John Madden not only assembled this immensely talented cast, but also the way he allows them to embody their characters.  They aren’t just playing “old people in India”; they’re playing complex people with whole lives of experiences that have shaped how they approach the rather major challenge of living in this bright, loud, ebullient culture.  Watching each actor become their character is fascinating; watching them interact and become an ensemble is remarkable.  Though every performance is marvelous, my favorites are Tom Wilkinson with his quiet secrets and Maggie Smith with her curmudgeon exterior.

Kudos also to the cinematography (helmed by director of photography Ben Davis), capturing both the opulence and the decay of modern India.  It’s a flurry of color and sound and streets packed with people and all sorts of transportation and it’s both overwhelming and marvelous.  Our timid English gentlemen and –women manage to be blandly out of place as they make their way through the cacophony.

Basically, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a drama with comic elements and magnificent performances by some of England’s finest actors.  There’s a little love story thrown in between the hotel manager and his girlfriend, but the focus is on the older ensemble and how they approach and manage their new surroundings.  Don’t see it for the amazing plot – it doesn’t have one.  See it for the amazing performances, of which it has many.  4 ½ stars out of 5 – highly recommended.

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