On paper, the plot of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel doesn’t sound all that compelling: approaching their twilight years, a motley gang of Brits find themselves the only occupants of a dilapidated hotel in India. Disillusioned with their lives and the obstacles they encounter back home, they each find new problems abroad, but for the most part grow to become better people for staying to challenge themselves. Is this predictable? A bit. But with razor wit and a charming cast, the film is a feel-good triumph.
Much of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel‘s strength comes from its remarkable ensemble cast. Judi Dench is compelling and sympathetic as Evelyn, a recent widow experiencing the world beyond her former home for the first time. Maggie Smith’s character Muriel often creates comic relief with her old-fashioned, racist beliefs as she is stuck at the hotel while recovering from hip surgery. Graham, played by Tom Wilkinson, is one of few characters to genuinely love life in India, but a ghost from his childhood in the country will not allow him to relax during his retirement. Penelope Wilton and Bill Nighy, who viewers may remember as an onscreen couple in Shaun of the Dead, portray Jean and Douglas, a posh couple coping with having lost their savings. Cecilia Imrie’s Madge is a delightful maneater who refuses to slow down her lifestyle, while Ronald Pickup’s Norman is lonely and yearning for sexual conquest and adventure.
But the older characters aren’t the only ones who struggle with Indian culture. Sonny (Dev Patel) tries to restore the hotel that his father ran into the ground, but his smooth talking can only accomplish so much. His girlfriend Sunaina (Tena Desae) loves him, but their families do not think that the couple ought to be together because of Sonny’s irresponsibility and Sunaina’s lack of social standing.
Of course, everything works out in the end for almost everyone, but these characters are so enchanting that you want them to find happiness. The laughs are frequent, the plot is heartwarming, and director John Madden manages to capture the lively essence of India as both an outsider and then a local.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel hits theaters May 4.