Sonny (Dev Patel) is the proprietor of “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful,” a massive, but dilapidated inn he inherited with his brothers. Advertising it as a home for the aged, he emphasizes its Jaipur India location, where it’s economically affordable to live. And because Sonny believes that most countries don’t like their old people, he reaches out to foreign markets like Britain to fill his rooms; much like outsourcing.
An ensemble cast makes it often difficult to follow the seven characters that accept Sonny’s offer; and, the somewhat ordinary story gets mired in the crowd of some very extraordinary British actors. But, while their stellar acting makes their characters believable, the script, unfortunately, does not.
Judi Dench is Evelyn, a recent widow who’s never worked outside the home. Clueless about her dead husband’s dealings, she discovers that he’s left her both penniless and homeless. The idea of moving in with her grown sons is unappealing; so, when Evelyn spots Sonny’s website while surfing the net, she promptly signs up. Although she’s supposed to be naïve and vulnerable, Evelyn morphs into Superwoman in India, even landing a call center job—her first, ever. From being clueless about how ISP’s work, she becomes a tech savvy blogger, narrating the movie through each blog post.
Graham (Tom Wilkinson) is a retired judge, pining for the lover he left behind in India when he was 18. Having grown up there, he becomes the group’s go-to guy for the low-down on the best places to eat and sightsee. But instead of joining the others on their treks, Graham is on a single-minded mission to find his lost beloved.
Bill Nighy is Douglas, a henpecked husband with the disease-to-please his hypercritical wife, Jean (Penelope Wilton). After losing all their money investing in their daughter’s start-up, and bypassing retirement units equipped with handrails and alarms, the couple inexplicably decides to move to India. Captivated with Jaipur, Douglas eagerly explores his new surroundings. But Jean refuses to participate, rejecting them as foreign and peculiar, leading to the question of why she ever boarded the plane in the first place.
Then, there’s Maggie Smith as Muriel, a former housekeeper, whose racist rants border on cruelty. While still in England, she refuses to allow a black doctor to examine her. Watching him scrub, she remarks that no matter how much he washes, he’ll never get the black off his hands. But payback arrives in the form of a Caucasian aide who pushes her around in a wheelchair. Making denigrating comments about people of color, Muriel’s unprepared for his reaction to her bigotry. She seems as unlikely as Jean to go to India, but the hip replacement surgery she needs is inexpensive there.
Finally, there’s Norman (Ronald Pickup) and Madge (Celia Imrie), both still single and both still looking. Perhaps the reason they can’t sight each other in their periscopes is because Norman refuses to acknowledge his age by dating much younger women while Madge only wants a man with money.
Alas, the expats aren’t the only ones with issues. Besides trying to prove to his mother (Lillete Dubey) that he’s not a failure at business, Sonny also has to convince her that his girlfriend Sunaina (Tena Desae) is marriage material. Ironically, Sunaina works at her brother’s call center, the one that hired Evelyn. Naturally, her brother thinks Sonny is a loser and takes turns with Sonny’s mother to prevent Sonny’s and Sunaina’s relationship.
Colorful saris, gorgeous scenery and exotic animals roaming dusty streets blend harmoniously with the rhythm of tooting horns and noisy masses. But Britain’s long and painful colonization of India is hardly mentioned, nor is India’s caste system deeply delved into. An intimate interaction between an “untouchable” and Muriel, the racist who has an epiphany, doesn’t really explain India’s form of class discrimination.
Although it’s somewhat pedestrian, this feel-good film does have many entertaining moments. More importantly, it addresses the matter of a rapidly aging world. With people living longer than ever before, an elderly population will soon outnumber newborns, making Sonny’s idea of outsourcing the aged not so farfetched after all.
“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful,” opens wide, beginning May 11.