Friendship and romance blossom in the most unexpected ways.
“There is no past that we can bring back by longing for it. Only a present that builds and creates itself as the past withdraws.”
For a variety of reasons, a handful of elderly British citizens find themselves moving to India. Graham Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton) is a lawyer who grew up in India and is eager to return for mysterious reasons. Douglas (Bill Nighy, Love Actually) and Jean Ainslie (Penelope Wilton, Shaun of the Dead) are a married couple who are forced to make the move for financial reasons. Evelyn Greenslade (Judi Dench, Quantum of Solace) is still attempting to recover from the death of her husband. Norman Cousins (Ronald Pickup, The Mission) is just looking for a little bit of carnal romance. Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) is going to India for a hip replacement. All of these individuals find themselves staying at The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful, which falls a bit short of its grand name (as the rooms tend to contain leaky faucets, broken phones and lots of birds). Over the course of this film, these characters will meet, become friends and discover each other’s secrets.
While Joss Whedon’s The Avengers was storming the box office over the summer of 2012, a modest little piece of counter-programming geared at older viewers was making consistently solid returns on a much smaller scale. The appeal of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is simple: it’s a warm story that grants an ensemble of exceptionally skilled older actors roles worthy of their talents. Yes, the tale is predictable and occasionally engages in a bit of that wearisome “aren’t old people adorable?” routine, but for the most part this flick is satisfying, heartfelt cinematic comfort food.
The films of director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love, The Debt) haven’t really done much for me in the past, as many of them feel more like stale awards bait than stories he felt a need to tell. It’s surprising, then, to discover that The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has so much life and energy running through its veins. Perhaps the setting is largely responsible: India seems to have a rhythm of it own that has a way of intoxicating those who visit. Perhaps that applies to filmmakers, too. While Madden offers a more conventional portrait of the setting than Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited (which told another story about characters doing some soul-searching while visiting the exotic country), he nonetheless manages the capture the bustling vigor of the area. Dench’s character likens India to a giant wave: resist and you’ll be overwhelmed, dive into it and you’ll come out the other side.
Madden strikes a nice balance between the silly and the sentimental, delivering a first half that leans heavily on comedy and a second half that contains a great deal of drama (though there are generous sprinklings of both at all times). The weightiest (and best) storyline is the one involving Wilkinson’s character, as it contains some surprising revelations and a strong sense of melancholy. Wilkinson handles the role with consummate gracefulness, quietly standing out as a highlight in a film loaded with fine performances.
Bill Nighy and Judi Dench both bring touchingly gentle versions of their familiar screen personas (and it’s quite nice to see them faring so well after the turbulent events of Notes on a Scandal). Maggie Smith rescues the film’s most predictable arc (racist old person learns not to be so racist) with brilliant comic timing and delicious wit (though this will hardly come as a surprise to those who have seen her on Downton Abbey). Penelope Wilton essays her high-strung role with aplomb, and Ronald Pickup seems to be having a grand time as a lonely man eagerly searching for a one-night stand. Dev Patel initially seems to be going a bit too over-the-top in his role as the earnest hotel manager, but his winning energy quickly wins us over.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (Blu-ray) has received a lovely 1080p/2.35:1 transfer that highlights the film’s vibrant color palette and distinctive visual style. The movie frequently takes the time to linger on its wonderful locations, and the level of detail is superb throughout. There’s a faint layer of natural grain intact and no evidence whatsoever of DNR. Facial detail is strong, flesh tones are warm and natural and blacks are sufficiently deep. The audio is a bit more lively than you might expect as well, with an enjoyably vigorous Thomas Newman score frequently incorporating some flavorful Indian touches and generally avoiding anything too treacly. Dialogue is clean and clear and the sound design is impressive immersive during a handful of outdoor sequences. Supplements are sadly limited to a handful of EPK-style featurettes: “Behind the Story: Lights, Colors and Smiles” (3 minutes), “Casting Legends” (4 minutes), “Welcome to the ‘Real’ Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” (3 minutes), “Trekking to India” (3 minutes), “Tuk Tuk Travels” (1 minute) and “Sneak Peek” (8 minutes).
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a charming little film that permits a host of seasoned actors to do what they do best. That’s good enough for me.