Funny, poignant, joyful and filled with beauty, this comedy-drama from director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) and writer Ol Parker (Imagine Me and You, which I also loved beyond measure) is all about embracing change instead of fearing it. Sprinkled amidst that message are equally potent lessons about finding one’s purpose, following one’s dreams, eschewing judgment for understanding and always believing in a better tomorrow.
Sure, some folks might roll their eyes and call it maudlin or manipulative, but I gave in to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel right from the get-go. It was heart-swellingly delightful.
Based on Deborah Moggach’s novel, These Foolish Things, the film follows a group of British pensioners who travel to Jaipur, India, in the hopes of finding rest, relaxation and rejuvenation at the luxurious titular hotel. Thing is, when they arrive, they discover a ramshackle historical building in dire need of care and repair (hello, metaphor!). Before they can turn tail and run, they’re greeted by its enthusiastic young proprietor (Dev Patel), who informs them that the place is not yet as great as it will be... someday.
So, they settle in. Widower Evelyn (Judi Dench) is looking to reinvent herself; retired judge Graham (Tom Wilkinson) is hoping to track down a piece of his past; cash-strapped but amiable Douglas (Bill Nighy) tries to cope with his perpetually displeased wife, Jean (Penelope Wilton); sexy grandmother Madge (Celia Imrie) is eager to find a wealthy diplomat to be her sugar daddy; womanizer Norman (Ronald Pickup) is looking to get lucky; and bitter, wheelchair-bound Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith) just wants to have her hip-replacement surgery over with so she can go back to England.
What unfolds is a story of discovery and healing, that’s as laugh-out-loud hilarious as it is moving and thoughtful. Each character has his or her own reason for making the journey to India and, over time, their stories begin to intertwine. While some dive into their new surroundings with courage and gusto, others dig in their heels and refuse to adapt. Though not entirely subtle, it’s a nonetheless effective analogy about the approaches many of us take when stepping out into the world.
Performance-wise, there’s nary a flaw in the bunch. Every single actor shines and some – Dench and Wilkinson, in particular – are break-your-heart excellent. Much has been made of the age of the cast members but, honestly, who cares when they’re this talented, this engaging and this ridiculously charming?
By the time the film ended, I was practically floating in my seat. It was, for me, exactly the right film to see at precisely the right moment in my life – and maybe that’s why the chord it struck is still reverberating. Regardless, for genuine, sweet-natured, feel-good entertainment, it doesn’t get much better than this.