The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
The pieces of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel fit together enjoyably. Here is something for those who love Downton Abbey (and Upstairs Downstairs) and something for those who love Slumdog Millionaire. Add elements of Merchant and Ivory movies and The Darjeeling Limited and, from Garbo days, Grand Hotel.
All-important is the use of British actors who can show up, toss around excellent vowels and consonants, and deliver charm, if not, in this case, art. Director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) shows a firm hand. India (Udaipur, in Rajasthan) packs in all the spiced color needed for tidy exoticism, though the musical score may add a little too much curry.
Seven senior Brits come to the decaying Marigold, a sagging marvel of nooks and arches with a great lake view. After inevitable gags about language and hot food and crowding and bad phones and diarrhea, each visitor gets a back story (gently examined) that is rounded to a life-affirming conclusion. By then they mostly like each other, and we easily like them.
It is never clear why Penelope Wilton is such a sour pickle, since her forgiving husband, Bill Nighy, is the most infallibly charming Englishman since David Niven.
Maggie Smith drops the marble crust of her Downton Abbey and Gosford Park pedigree and squawks working-class as a loyal domestic who got dumped. In India for a hip replacement, she also replaces her racism. Which is nice, although her conversion from snotty scold to take-charge angel is rather convenient.
Dame Judi Dench is again a fine dame, jolly-chipper all the way. Ronald Pickup is a cute rogue randy for one last fling. A little too good for the general level is Tom Wilkinson. He instills 40 years of longing and regret into his dignified bachelor, who needs Mother India to heal an old wound of the heart.
Good sights include beautiful Tena Desae. Skinny, funny Dev Patel of Slumdog is the harried heir who strives to make the old hotel shine again. I’d love to introduce him to innkeeper Ava Gardner in Night of the Iguana. She doesn’t give a flying fig that her place is falling apart, so long as tequila and young studs keep coming. Aesthetically, this is a two-star film, but it hums and bustles in a fine sari and so: