Don't be fooled by the title but The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has little to do with the actual hotel and more to do with its British inhabitants who have come to seek a promise of a better life in the warmer and more hospitable climes of India.
The film opens in Britain to introduce us to seven different senior citizens, all dealing with various life-changing crises in their lives and to whom The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel looks like the best option out. There's Evelyn (Judi Dench) whose husband has just died and has never been on her own, a high court judge Graham (Tom Wilkinson) who once used to live in India, Douglas (Bill Nighy) and Jean (Penelope Wilton) who invested all their money in their daughter's failed internet business, Madge (Celia Imrie) who's looking for her next wealthy husband, Norman (Donald Pickup) who doesn't want to be lonely anymore and finally Muriel (Maggie Smith) who looked after another family all her life and now has no one to look after her as she needs a hip replacement. Together they all gather at the airport and onto to India where the journey begins with a bump in a road as their plane to Jaipur has been canceled.
So instead they pile on a bus and head to the hotel where they discover the hotel is not as advertised. Most of them adjust to the situation but Jean seems most upset and wants her money back. No problem, says the manager of the soon-to-be-updated hotel, Sonny (Dev Patel), it'll be done in approximately three months. Here he says my favorite line from the film, "Everything will be alright in the end...if it's not alright then its not the end." He keeps repeating it in the movie to assure the characters and also himself. Sonny has great ambitions for the hotel and his future but his plans are just not quite there yet.
The rest of the seniors may not be so sure of Sonny but they do they do their best and move forward. Evelyn ventures forth and gets her first ever job, Norman and Madge hang out the posh club looking for companionship, Graham goes everyday to the public records office in search of an old friend while Jean can only stay at the hotel. While cliched, the film shows us how this very drastic change of scenery brings that much needed push in their lives for many of the characters.
The cast is absolutely stellar with several awards amongst them. Director John Madden maneuvers them well; they all get their moment to shine. It reminds you, that ensemble movies, if done well are fun to watch. But the obvious star of the movie and the one we identify the most is Judi Dench. She and director Madden previously made Mrs. Brown and Shakespeare in Love for which she won her only Oscar. She is absolutely charming here in her portrayal of a widow standing on her two feet again. She and Maggie Smith (aka Dowager Countess Grantham and Professor McGonagall) have the most character growth in the film coming so far from where we first see them in the beginning. It was quite touching to see it.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is surprising in how good it is. The screenplay, written by Ol Parker, has its emotional moments coming at key places that actually pushes the story forward. The dialogues are witty with lots of laugh out loud moments. However, my one big gripe was Dev Patel's character Sonny who has quite voluble dialogues to mouth. For a guy in his early 20s, he sounds like he's going on 40. No other young character in the film sounds like him. I fear he's going to always be typecast in roles like this unless he does something drastic.
Moving to India is not an easy experience. Trust me, I know. But once you're here, it feels you never left and the feeling you get when you eventually know your way around. The film managed to capture the essence of how you finally find your way and somehow belong.
PS-I saw many people coming to watch the movie with their parents, which I thought was kind of sweet. I myself brought my mom to see the film.
Directed by John Madden; Screenplay by Ol Parker; Based on the novel, These Foolish Things, by Deborah Moggach; Cinematography by Ben Davis; Edited by Chris Gill; Music by Thomas Newman
Additional cast: Tena Desae, Lillete Dubey, Sid Makkar, Diana Hardcastle and Bhuvnesh Shetty.