The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) is a feel good testament to growing old, and proof that there’s truth in the adage ‘you’re as old as you feel – or the one that you’re feeling’!
A group of British retirees (played by Maggie Smith, Judy Dench, Penelope Wilton, Cilia Imrie, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson and Ronald Pickup) who for various reasons are looking for new meaning in their lives, decide to cast caution to the wind and head to India. There they have read of an oasis of eastern promise called ‘The Marigold Hotel’, that they all hope will work it’s magic on their humdrum lives. Upon arrival however, they discover that the hotel may not be as exotic as they have been led to believe, and despite the enthusiasm of its young owner Sonny (Dave Patel) it’s going to take a miracle to give both it, and them, a new lease of life.
A monument should be erected to the cast of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel as they are without doubt, each and every one, a national treasure. Though the two resident Dames, Smith and Dench, stand out as they do in everything in which they appear, the ensemble of British stalwarts works perfectly as a whole, with no feeling of anyone vying for the limelight over their fellow cast members (something you can bet wouldn’t have happened if it had been peopled by American stars). Each of the household names, Nighy, Wilkinson, Pickup, Wilton, Imrie, Smith and Dench bring a poignancy to their individual character’s plights, though it’s Wilton’s portrayal of the emotionally stunted Jean and her eventual realisation of her situation which is one of the most moving. Without giving too much away it is safe to say that by the end of the film each character, both British and Indian, finds a degree of acceptance that works for them individually and for the group as a whole. Special mention should also go to a younger cast member who though appearing only briefly at the start, shines as she always does in her increasingly frequent film appearances. Ten year old Ramona Marquez who plays the granddaughter of Imrie’s Madge is delectable, and proves in less than thirty seconds why she is fast becoming a big screen regular.
Though there is nothing exactly original in the film – we have seen story-lines concerning people coming to terms with old age and it’s effects on them and their relationships before – just as we have seen the setting of India equally as often. However seldom have they appeared as vibrantly as they do here, either in the case of the various ‘sexa’ and ‘septua’ generians and their acceptance of the march of time, or the myriad of hothouse colours which makes the film’s eastern locale spring from the screen in the way a grey British one never could.
The route the residents of The Marigold Hotel finally take in relation to how they will see out their twilight years may appear to many as somewhat unconventional. However if their last ditch attempts at happiness does nothing else, it at least proves it’s never too late to give life a go. Some may dismiss the film as overtly sentimental, however its central subject, namely that of growing old, is something which none of us can avoid, and this warm comedy proves that approaching it disgracefully can lessen some of its sting.