‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ movie review: Judi Dench retires in Jaipur

A rare mainstream(ish) feature that specifically caters to a senior demographic, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel should shine given its pedigree in front of and behind the camera. And for most of the running time, it’s an agreeable, easygoing feature that kind of washes over you in a pleasant, undemanding kind of way. It’s the kind of movie, you think, your mother might like.

By the end, however, I was left wanting. Wanting more of the authentic experience of this cast adjusting to a new life in a new country. The cast, by the way, includes Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, and Tom Wilkinson. I would have gladly spent two hours with them walking around the streets of Jaipur. When the film delivers that (in too-small doses), it soars.

I wanted less, however, of the shockingly cliché plot (the film was scripted by Ol Parker, from the novel These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach), which stops just short of having the old timers band together to save the titular hotel, as if they were teens fighting to save the local rec center in a 1980s dance movie.

Characters are haphazardly introduced in an opening montage: Evelyn (Dench), who narrates, is struggling after the death of her husband; Graham (Wilkinson) is a high court judge who suddenly decides to retire; Jean (Penelope Wilton) and Douglas (Nighy) are seeking an affordable home after sinking their money in their daughter’s startup; Madge (Celia Imrie) is tired of playing the grandmother role; Norman (Ronald Pickup) is on the prowl for romantic engagements; and Muriel (Maggie Smith) needs an expensive hip replacement.

For a variety of reasons, each of these British citizens finds themselves attracted to the titular Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a Jaipur retirement home-like establishment run by the charming Sonny (Slumdog Millionaire’s Dev Patel). At first, it seems a bit too exotic: the food is too authentic (Muriel, amusingly, brings her own supply of UK standbys) and the hotel is in a constant state of disrepair. It isn’t what they expected, but they’ll make do.

There’s entirely too much going on here; not only are each of the seven characters given a storyline (though Norman and Madge are forgotten for large parts of the film), but Sonny is, too: the old one involving a domineering mother and the girlfriend she’ll never approve of. And then there’s the plot involving the hotel itself. Oy. Few of the storylines are worth our time – and despite a 120-minute running time, they’re barely worth the film’s time, either.

Really, keep it simple – all we need here are the experiences of Evelyn and Graham. Dench and Wilkinson are engaging in this surrounding; the subplot involving Wilkinson’s character is especially touching – it alone makes The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel worth watching. Smith is stuck with the crotchety old xenophobe character. Hmm…I wonder if she’ll come around?

From spicy food to call centers to the caste system to arranged marriages to cricket to politeness, no Indian stereotype is left unexplored. And yet, this is where the film does best, showcasing the clash of cultures. All the over-plotting is unnecessary.

The film was directed by John Madden, who scored big in the late nineties with Mrs. Brown and Shakespeare in Love, but has had less success recently; his last film, The Debt, was similarly let down by its screenplay. Expectedly, the film showcases some lovely location cinematography by Ben Davis.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a pleasant enough diversion – but perhaps one best suited to its target demographic.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

2 Responses

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *