Image source. Copyright Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2012.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. What a mouthful of a name. And not an entirely accurate one, either. Exotic is a heartwarming, funny, quite often adorable story, but its plot points are hardly exotic or the best. No matter: plain ol’ honey is still sweet, wonderful honey. And with a truly sublime cast of veteran actors, Exotic can’t fail to leave a smile on your face.
Exotic concerns the intertwining stories of seven people staring down irrelevance as recently retired, aging British citizens. On their own time, they each find themselves signing up to spend their last years in “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” a seemingly mystical retreat in the oh-so-mystical land of India. (And yes, that’s the name of the actual hotel, not just a weird movie title.) All seems lovely…except first, their flight connection to Jaipur gets cancelled. Then they discover the hotel, contrary to the lush pictures on its website, is a rundown, barely-functional carcass of a building. And that the hotel owner, a young, talkative man named Sonny (Dev Patel), says a lot, but doesn’t exactly deliver on his flowery rhetoric. Then there’s India itself, crowded streets, cows, curry and all. So much for a nice, comfortable retirement.
Over the course of the movie, we see how each of the seven main characters reacts and adapts – or, in one case, doesn’t – to the new environment and culture. Some get work. Others go exploring. Still others, in the film’s more humorous and touching sequences, try to find and reignite remnants of past love. But all of them find that, just when they thought life was spiraling downwards towards a quiet, ignoble end, it’s never too late to make a fresh start and rediscover a sense of purpose in life. Even Sonny goes through his own coming-of-age crisis with his girlfriend (Tena Desae) and stern mother (Lillete Dubey). Change, these people all too used to drudging routine discover, can do wonders. As Evelyn (Judi Dench) puts it in the film’s closing monologue, “we must celebrate the changes. Let them come…because as someone once said, everything will be alright in the end.”
Is Exotic thought-provoking? No. In director John Madden’s haste to make happy endings for everyone, character transitions are sped up, obstacles vanished with a mere paragraph of dialogue, resolutions defined too easily. There’s no way life is this picture-perfect or consistently forgiving. And at times, the movie’s portrayal of old people and Indians borders on caricature. You realize all of this, however, and still find Exotic a sweet joyride. It brims with love and benevolence, to the point that you can’t help but embrace the happiness. This may be what humans would only be in an ideal world, but hey, it never hurts to dream. Meanwhile, the actors – Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith among them – bring the largest plus to this movie’s scorecard. These aren’t novices struggling to rise above trite irrelevance. They take the caricature limits of their roles and squeeze humanity out of them, hilarious, heart-rending, fascinating humanity in all its defects and surprising selflessness. You’ll find yourself connecting with these people on their quest for love and friendship in this brave new world.
So Exotic maybe isn’t exceptional. 10 years from now, it’ll be perfect fodder for your depressed-rainy-Friday-night movie shelf. But thanks to the performances, plus a screenplay that, despite its banality, demands empathy and laughter, Exotic checks out as one of the better feel-good movies you’ll ever see. Who knew a derelict, half-developed “hotel” could fill so many people with delight?
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012)
Starring: Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith, Dev Patel
Running Time: 124 minutes
Produced by: Graham Broadbent, Peter Czernin
Directed by: John Madden
Written by: Ol Parker
Based on the novel These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach.