As someone who will be travelling across Northern India in September, I was looking forward to seeing this movie purely to examine the gloriously vibrant world of Jaipur. In this regard, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel does not disappoint. The set buzzes with energy as bright colours explode across the screen. Visually this is a wonderful film that highlights the frenetic lunacy of the roads in India, the poverty that exists side by side with exquisite beauty and the constant movement, constant growth that defines the second most populous nation on Earth.
All of this is experienced through the eyes of a group of some of Britain’s most beloved aged actors. The film follows the Love Actually line of having a series of disparate and unconnected stories played out alongside each other. It’s even got Love Actually lothario Nighy in there. It’s just that in this case they’re all retirees looking for somewhere more exotic (and less expensive) than the UK to spend their retirement. You’ve got Dench playing a recently bereaved and beggared widow, Wilkinson searching for an old friend from his childhood in India, Imrie and Pickup searching for saucy fun with Indian millionaires and Nighy soaking up the culture while his wife Wilton struggles to survive in a country without hobnobs and running water. They’re all watched by wheelchair bound Maggie Smith, a maid whose retirement from the family wasn’t exactly her idea.
The “hotel” is set up as a retirement home for Westerners by the endlessly passionate and endearing Patel who is trying to turn its fortunes around while sneaking around with a girlfriend his mother disapproves of. So with a great cast and a dazzling environment the stage is set… for old people finding going on a journey of self-discovery and love... in India. The film has a decent Curtisesque selection of funny moments: the group's first impressions of the barely functional hotel, Dench getting a job in an Indian call centre and teaching them how to speak to English people over the phone, Pickup getting all excited about getting lucky with a sexy old lady, Patel in almost every scene – stuff like that.
Then there’s the emotional sad stuff: old folk talking about the losses in their lives, coming to terms with their failings, stuff like that. And there’s the inspiring, heart-warming stuff: Dev Patel standing up to his mother to stay with his girlfriend, Maggie Smith helping the hotel’s struggling fortunes and Judi Dench’s voiceover about taking chances, never giving up, stuff like that.
In this respect the film does feel a bit formulaic and although the ending isn’t universally happy it is utterly and unerringly optimistic. As a result the whole thing is just a repetition of a hundred other films which makes me grind my teeth a bit. Setting it in India adds a delightfully exotic flavour and it was certainly nice to see people sweating away in chinos and shirts under the blazing Indian sun while I shiver in my draughty flat. One cannot fault the acting display. To a man/ woman they are as excellent as you would expect from a cast brimming with BAFTAs and overloaded with Oscars.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a bright and entertaining experience complemented by a stellar cast. But I wouldn’t watch it again.