The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel | Film review
Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson and Bill Nighy discover the charms of India.
Director John Madden’s imprimatur has come to represent a certain strain of middlebrow-prestige blandness (Shakespeare in Love, Proof), but between this and 2010’s surprisingly thrilling The Debt, lately he’s seemed to specialize in terrible-sounding movies that are actually sort of not bad. A diverting exercise in cine-tourism, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel brings together a group of aging Brits at a rundown resort for the elderly in Jaipur, India. Widow Evelyn (Judi Dench) just wants a new life, while Jean (Penelope Wilton) and Douglas (Bill Nighy) are having trouble affording a home in England. Former housekeeper Muriel (Maggie Smith) needs a quick hip replacement. Norman (Ronald Pickup) and Madge (Celia Imrie) are looking for love. Most poignantly, judge Graham (Tom Wilkinson) yearns to heal wounds from a visit 40 years earlier.
One of the pleasures of movies is their capacity to transport you anywhere in the world, and the sights and sounds of India really are the whole show here; based on a novel by Deborah Moggach, the project might as well have been commissioned by a travel board. The attitude toward the country mostly seems kosher (Dev Patel’s proprietor and his girlfriend become central characters), although the way the movie repeatedly deploys Muriel’s casual racism for laughs is a problem. Madden doesn’t entirely avoid the obvious traps; if you showed up expecting Viagra jokes, you won’t leave disappointed. Still, the film benefits from a leisurely pace and relaxed star turns, especially from Dench, Nighy and Wilkinson, whose character could be the subject of another, tougher movie.