A group of retirees, disappointed with their lives, pack up and seek adventure in India. Evelyn (Judi Dench) is adjusting to life without her late husband; Muriel (Maggie Smith) is sent to India for an operation, very much against her wishes, Graham (Tom Wilkinson) has just retired from his life as a High Court Judge and is seeking a connection from his childhood, Douglas (Bill Nighy) and jean (Penelope Wilton) have lost their life savings, and Norman (Ron Pickup) and Madge (Celia Imrie) are seeking love, just not with each other. These people are thrown together in a dilapidated Jaipur hotel and learn to come to terms with their lives and losses.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel brings together the best of British talent on screen, but sadly does not give all of them a chance to shine. Based on Deborah Moggach’s novel, the film focuses in on Wilkinson, Dench, Nighy and Smith, while allowing the other characters to play back up. Each performance is fantastic, as we have come to expect from these actors what we know and love, but each of the leads gets to play a character that is a little different to what we would expect from them.
Instead of the strong women that Judi Dench has played in the past, Evelyn is a woman left alone for the first time in years. She is lost without her husband and decides to go to India and forges a career for herself. Bill Nighy is less domineering than we have seen in the past, in fact his character borders on the endearingly awkward as he and Evelyn get to know one another. Maggie Smith’s xenophobic Muriel is a surprising character for her to play. It is easy to forget that England’s diverse multicultural landscape is not fully accepted by all. Smith’s performance is shocking, but once her walls begin to come down, Muriel shows herself as a character with great heart.
Tom Wilkinson as Graham is the emotional heart of the film; this is a man who grew up in Jaipur, but has not returned since his heart got broken many years before. Graham is seeking redemption and forgiveness for a silence that is fifty years old, but the ideas terrifies him as much as it enthrals him. There are scenes between Wilkinson and Dench that are heartbreaking in their subtlety, but once Wilkinson disappears from the screen the film begins to feel scattered.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a sweet, if superficial story. There are too many characters for any of them to be fully developed, so instead the film skims along the top of the characters’ stories without ever delving deeper. The film also touches on some of the issues facing the elderly, but all of these are conveniently resolved in an exotic location with challenges that bring everyone together.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a sweet film with fantastic moments, but overall the movie feels superficial and – sadly for a film set in such a vibrant place – ultimately vanilla.