Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Elderly and Beautiful Adventurers

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a surprising pleasure.  The main draw, of course, is its exemplary cast, who are introduced in their British habitats precisely in time to leave them.
Maggie Smith, Ronald Pickup, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Celia Imrie, and Judi Dench.  (c) 2011 Fox Searchlight.

-         Evelyn Greenslade — the delightfully subdued and spectacular Judi Dench — is recently widowed, having some issues with income and outsourced call centers as we all have.  While the remaining men in her life try to solve her problems as they see fit, she decides to give a whole new life a try.

-         Douglas and Jean Ainslie — Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton — are retiring.  Well, he is.  She is a housewife with dreams of glory.  They’ve entrusted their retirement funds to their daughter, so presently cannot afford to live as Mrs. Ainslie would like to become accustomed.  Listen for her “turning left” dream.  They’re a mismatched pair, him self-effacing, self-sacrificing and kind; her, not so much.  Even when she’s not whining, we brace for a sour note.

-         Graham Dashwood, a dashing judge — the always welcome Tom Wilkinson — is suddenly of a mind to retire.  Get away from it all, and back to the land of his youth.  And possibly more than just the land and its light and color.

-         Mrs. Muriel Donnelly is retired, alone, and trapped in a wheelchair.  She is humorless, bigoted, and terrified, and as played by the irresistible Maggie Smith, still likeable.  She cannot get about without a new hip, the waiting list for which is too long in England.  She can get it more quickly and cheaply elsewhere….

-         Madge Hardcastle — the wittily impish Celia Imrie — is tired of being a live-in babysitter for her married daughter.  She wants life, and sex, and a new husband.  Her adolescent grandchildren understand her better than her own daughter, and off she goes.

-         Norman Cousins has still got it, he’s certain, he just needs to find someone who wants it.  Ronald Pickup makes this character a 20-something stuck in a 60-something’s body, but his forays into London nightlife are disheartening.  Norman needs a new audience for his old pick-up lines, so he joins these strangers awaiting a flight to a new home for “the elderly and beautiful,” the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

The journey is hard, the arrival disappointing, despite the optimism and warmth of their host, the proprietor of the hotel, Sonny Kapoor.  The sweet-faced and sincere Dev Patel plays Sonny with just a tad too much enthusiasm.  Sonny is in love with (but can’t say it) the lovely Sunaina (a delicately feisty young woman played by Tena Desae), who works for her brother Jay’s (Sid Makkar) call center. 
Evelyn (Judi Dench) and Madge (Celia Imrie) arrive at their new home.  (c) 2011 Fox Searchlight

Sonny Kapoor has a dream:  to resurrect his father’s dream of this ancient hotel in this rundown part of Jaipur, India.  His ruling mantra is “It’ll all work out in the end.  If it hasn’t, it is not yet the end.”  The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a disappointment to say the least.  The phones don’t work (although the computer connected to the internet does), and Madge’s room doesn’t even have a door — until she takes over Sonny’s room, so now he’s in a room without a door.  That’s Madge for you.  Madge and Norman look for love separately and keep bumping into each other.  Graham was brought up in India, so he’s looking for his rose-colored memories, perhaps, or perhaps something more.  Evelyn reinvents herself in this new land by getting her very first job — in Sunaina’s brother Jay’s call center of all places.  Douglas Ainslie is enthralled by his surroundings, the smiling faces, the food, the land, the buildings, the history.  Jean Ainslie won’t leave the hotel she hates.  Mrs. Donnelly gets her surgery despite her fears, and settles in, talking to the silent food server.  Real life interferes on occasion in the person of Sonny’s mother (Lillete Dubey), but not too much.  Even the traffic jams are entertaining.
Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy.  (c) 2011 Fox Searchlight.

Does all this sound too good to be true?  Sure, but during the film no one cares. 

The actors are all very fine.  They take a lightweight script by Ol Parker (based on a novel by Deborah Moggach) and make it work. John Madden’s direction is swift without rushing.  The film pronounces its themes clearly:  Love is possible at any age, and retirement — not to mention life — will be what you make of it, money or no money.  And, of course, Sonny’s mantra. 

Every character (almost) has his or her arc of learning, growing, taking that first terrifying step into another life.  I won’t get specific here and produce spoilers.  Structurally I pronounce The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel sound — that is, the film, not the building!  If something’s amiss, it’s that the film is largely predictable, as is any story that strives for a happy ending.  This is a bit of summery fluff.  If you want no more than a sweet summer fling, sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.
Evelyn reinvented.  (c) 2011 Fox Searchlight.

~ Molly Matera, signing off to look for a verandah and an exotic cocktail….

1 comment:

  1. The cast called my name so I went to see this extraordinary, ordinary movie. The script--predictable. The acting? Extraordinary. The cinematography? Indescribable. Each frame was a beautiful post-impressionist painting. If this doesn't get Oscar nominations for at least that, there is no justice. And so much fun to see a former Dr. Who PM on screen in yet something else! But Dame Judy was spectacular, as usual. Damn but she is good!