Review: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

John Madden, the man behind Oscar-winning rom-com Shakespeare in Love, teams up with author Deborah Moggach to bring her novel about English pensioners’ Indian adventures to the big screen in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  The players involved are a veritable who’s who of British acting talent of a certain age with Dame Judi Dench and Bill Nighy anchoring this elderly fish-out-of-water tale.  With a pinch of Dev Patel for spice (and some youthful appeal) the stage is set for an unusual take on a tired genre.

Dame Judi Dench being interviewed at The Best Exotic Marigold world premiere

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel kicks off with a series of character introductions; recently widowed Evelyn (Dench) struggling to adjust to life on her own; high court judge Graham (Tom Wilkinson) entering retirement; Douglas (Nighy) and Jean (Penelope Wilton) faced with less-than appealing home choices and don’t forget Maggie Smith as the adorably racist Muriel, displaying the bitter-heart she’s almost certain to have a change of by the film’s end.  Ronald Pickup’s horny Norman and Celia Imrie’s man-hunter Madge get similar treatment, before the whole lot are, for one reason or another, whisked away to Jaipur, India, courtesy of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the elderly and beautiful.  The hotel, a fixer-upper, is managed by Sonny (Patel), an enthusiastic young man looking to make good, who also happens to have a forbidden relationship with the woman he loves (Tena Desae).  Culture-shock sets in for some, some old dogs learn new tricks and love, of course, conquers all.  Sadly, for all the film’s good intentions, none of the various plotlines achieve more than mild amusement.

The stars involved deliver no less than what one would expect.  Diminutive Dench and lanky Nighy make for a brilliant pairing and carry the dramatic aspects well.  That’s not to detract from Wilkinson’s soul-bearing role that is delivered with utmost class. Madden does a great job of balancing the array of characters and while some get a deeper look than others, there are no blatant slights.  There are plenty of life lessons to be learnt in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, but those lessons could have been more compelling.  The comedy here is quite light, with only a smattering of truly laugh out loud moments (Norman’s comment on the perils of sex at an advanced age being the best of the lot).  Nor is there much suspense to the drama.  It’s a rather humdrum outing that does nothing wrong beyond failing to make any significant lasting impression.  Indian culture is touched upon, with arranged marriages and the caste system both being addressed, but The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is very much about living life to its fullest, even (and especially) later in life.  Again, there’s nothing wrong with that message, but the two-hours delivering it should be more exciting for the viewers.

Director John Madden's The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel opens on 24 February

It’s difficult to feel too strongly one way or another about The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Everyone involved is excellent in their roles, but that’s also all the more reason why the end product should be far more enjoyable and memorable.  Still, this is decent, inoffensive fare (even Maggie Smith’s racial intolerance feels harmless) that will likely sit best with those of relatable ages.  Even then, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel runs the risk of leaving its target audience wondering if they should maybe do more with their lives than sit around watching average rom-coms.  7.5/10

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