Starring: Judi Dench, Dev Patel, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Ronald Pickup, Celia Imrie, and Lillete Dubey.
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox
Runtime: 123 mins. Reviewed in Mar 2012
This is a British comedy-drama based on the novel, “These Foolish Things (2004)”, by Deborah Moggach. The film tracks the life of a group of elderly retirees, who travel from Britain to India to take up residence in what they think is a newly renovated, luxury hotel in Jaipur. They are seduced by what they have read about the Marigold Hotel and its false claims of comfort and facilities for leisure. The hotel, “for the elderly and beautiful”, is a pale shadow of what maybe it once was. Its phones don’t work, the building is run-down, and the food is not what the group likes to eat. The hotel is also in financial trouble. However, the experiences the group go through together transform their lives, and turn them into very different people. Slowly, the hotel charms them into a life most of them choose to retain.
Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel, of “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008) fame) runs the hotel with good intention, but is under the gaze of his disapproving mother (Lillete Dubey). He has learnt to tolerate cockroaches on the floors, filthy beds, faulty plumbing, and he serves endless variations of curry at dinner-time. The retirees are horrified.
The group itself is a motley assortment of seven individuals. It comprises a couple who are estranged from each other, and hanging onto their disintegrating marriage by just a thin thread (Bill Nighy is Douglas, the long-suffering husband, and Penelope Wilton is Jean, his constantly criticizing wife); Evelyn (Judi Dench) is a vulnerable, dignified and determined woman, who has been widowed recently; Muriel (Maggie Smith) is an appalling racist, needing a hip-replacement, who is given some of the film’s best lines. Tom Wilkinson is an ex-high court judge, who brings tenderness to his role as Graham, a gay man “more in theory than in practice nowadays”, and who wants to make contact with the man he has loved in the past. Finally, there are Madge (Celia Imrie) and Norman (Ronald Pickup). Madge is on the hunt for a partner and plays at being seductive, while Norman is sex-crazed, but has trouble recognizing that most women find him unattractive. Dev Patel brings physical comedy to his routines, which contrasts effectively with the more refined work of the group of retirees.
This is a feel-good movie to savour. Some comedies laugh at other cultures, and some comedies laugh with them. This movie is decidedly in the latter category. Muriel’s barbs about India are recognised for what they are – unfair and bigoted – but Madden’s direction aims to elicit laughter from us to release our possible prejudices.
The charm of this movie lies predominantly in the interactions of the retirees with a culture with which they are unfamiliar, and their journey to re-educate themselves. This is a movie that pulls wittily at the heartstrings, and it offers quality comic moments and human drama along the way. It is a complex film where different individuals, defined by their past experiences, find new forms of happiness for themselves, and the film tells a human story for each of them. Through all the experiences, the movie creates some wonderful insights into ageing. Each of the seven elderly people has longings and desires, and each has experienced pain in the past. India’s culture is used to underline their differences, but also to undermine our possible preconceptions. As Judi Dench says sentimentally in her introspective, thoughtful commentary, which runs through the movie: “Have we travelled far enough that we can allow our tears to fall?”
This is a film that is intelligently crafted, warm and understanding, and its team of accomplished actors delivers polished and classy performances that make it a great movie to enjoy. The movie, as a whole, is possibly age-related, but there is much that can be learned from this marvellous group of zestful retirees, who are challenged by the noise and colour of India to act and think differently.
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