Our Score: 4.5 out of 5 stars
This time of year brings many surprises to the multiplex. This season’s first surprise is a charming film packed with a who’s who of some of the greatest actors to ever come out of England. The film is called “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” and it’s a fine diversion from the super heroes and animated fare that fills theatres in the summer months.
The story concerns a group of Brit senior citizens looking for a way to keep their autumn years comfortable. Evelyn (Dench) is recently widowed and learning that her husband has left her in a considerable amount of debt. Graham (Tom Wilkinson) is a retired judge who still regrets leaving the love of his youth. Douglas and Jean (Nighy and Penelope Wilton) are a couple of civil servants trying to rekindle the sparks of their marriage. These people and others are drawn to a brochure they are sent from India advertising the opulent Marigold Hotel. Soon the group is off to Jaipur, hoping to spread their retirement money out longer in the Indian economy. However, when they arrive they discover that the hotel is not as fancy as pictured. The phones don’t work, the faucets drip and not all of the rooms have doors. However, inspired by the passion of the hotel’s young owner/manager Sonny (Patel) the palace they imagined begins to take shape.
Skillfully acted by a group that has, between them, 14 Academy Award nominations and 3 Oscars (not to mention the one Bill Nighy should have won for “Love Actually”), the film is the greatest assemblage of British talent since the last “Harry Potter” film. As each person begins to deal with their new surroundings, the story enfolds, enveloping each of them with the magic that Sonny is trying to restore to his family’s hotel. Also along for the trip is Mrs. Donnelly (Maggie Smith) who, rather than wait on a rather long list for a hip transplant, takes advantage of the cost and availability of Indian medicine and two seniors (Celia Imrie and Ronald Pickup) still looking for the excitement that love brings. There are secrets to be discovered, of course, and that is what makes this rather exotic trip worthwhile. Patel brings the same youthful ambition here that he displayed in “Slumdog Millionaire” and more then holds his own against his older co-stars. On the technical side, the film is brilliant with the colors and sights of India, delivering a much more nuanced vision of the country then the one featured in many films. Director Madden keeps the pace moving briskly, helped mightily by a witty script by Ol Parker, based on Deborah Moggach’s novel, “These Foolish Things.”