The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

It’s not even June yet, and we’ve already had a summer movie season crammed full of aliens, super heroes, more aliens, and explosions.

And now we get a bunch of old people who retire to a run-down hotel in India.

The Avengers made more in its first five minutes than The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel will make in its lifetime, but that doesn’t mean they’re not both worth seeing (for very different reasons and by a very different demographic).

Marigold Hotel has snuck into theaters, quietly delighting theater-goers with a welcome amount of honesty and heart. The acting is top of the line, the scenery is stunning, and the story, though occasionally on the trite side, manages to entertain with a perfect mix of happiness, sadness, and all-out charm.

A group of seven British seniors (headed by Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, and Bill Nighy) all find themselves (for a variety of reasons) headed to Udaipur, India, to retire in what they think is style. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (‘for the Elderly and Beautiful’) is run by Sonny (Dev Patel), who… well, let’s just say he honed his Photoshop skills as he made the brochure.

Turns out the run-down, might-have-been-something-in-its-day, glorified hostel needs as much work as its new inhabitants. And so, over the course of several weeks, we watch as broken faucets are fixed and broken people become whole.

Marigold Hotel is a delightful mash-up of Under the Tuscan Sun, Downton Abbey, and Eat Pray Love. Yes, director John Madden benefits from having one of the more stellar ensemble casts, but he still has the ability to lead us along the way with the same thought and precision he showed in Shakespeare in Love and The Debt.

And major kudos are in order for his decision to stray from the unfortunate norm of showing only the slums and trash-strewn streets of urban India. Here is a movie that the Indian Tourism Council will surely put at the top of their must-see list.

The cast feels like an all-star game for the Merchant-Ivory set; Nighy is the ultimate showcase of tolerance, made to endure his horrid shrew of a wife (Downton‘s Penelope Wilton), Wilkinson brings his brilliant, understated charm to the role of a man who has returned to the country to find his childhood love, and Dench is perfect as the group’s voice of reason and sanity. Smith brings the same nuttiness that she does to Downton‘s dowager countess, and honest performances are also turned in by Ronald Pickup and Celia Imrie as two of the, um, friskier of the bunch.

There are one or two stale storylines along the way, but overall Marigold Hotel is a welcome oasis at the cineplex during these (pre-)summer days; the acting is refined, the direction is subtle, and the laughs and tears come in equal measure.

And nothing ever explodes. And everyone is from Earth.

4/5 stars