With a huge amount of senior British acting talent behind it, and a competently populist director in John Madden, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel would be hard-pushed to come out a bad film. Sure enough, despite being so light it’s in risk of floating away into nothing, the acting talent of those involved means it retains enough emotional weight to keep it firmly grounded.
A collection of aging British thesps (Tom Wilkinson, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Bill Nighy amongst many others) play an assortment of pensioners who look to leave behind the grey shores of Britain for the colours and bustle of a vibrant Jaipur in India. Checking in at the (supposedly) luxuriant retirement home of the title, run by Slumdog Millionaire’s Dev Patel, the residents are soon on a life-changing voyage filled with epiphany and emotion. Finding a less than top-notch Hotel waiting, they help each other along the way to discovering both their new home and a little more about each other.
The film is undeniably lightweight, and there is an element of this being an impossibly upmarket and middle-class version of the ‘Brits Abroad’ Kevin & Perry Go Large stereotype. However, the fantastic acting talents deliver a perfect home run on some of the script’s more touching moments. Tom Wilkinson, in particular, takes the heartbreaking tale of his character’s back story and hits it right out of the park and Judi Dench is also on her regular fine form as a recent widow. Bill Nighy does his regular amusing schtick, but this time with an endearingly downtrodden air as he traipses after his wife who has failed to embrace India to the same extent as he has.
Madden has also put together a visually vibrant film, celebrating the energy and colour of its location even if it perhaps skips over the less postcard-worthy elements. Some character arcs are tied up far too easily, in particular Maggie Smith’s transformation from offensively prejudiced curmudgeon (Look! She’s being overtly racist, how hilarious!), and tentative steps into a commentary on Indian social mores are quickly dispensed with. However, the gravitas of the cast carries this film a long way. It may not be a classic, but Madden et al have delivered an extremely enjoyable couple of hours that doesn’t try to be heavy drama. Although it may leave you grasping for more, the good will the characters generate mean you are more than willing to forgive them for it.