To stretch their pensions, the travelers decide to try life at a hotel dedicated to “the elderly and beautiful.” The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is now playing nationwide.
Living in the now
The blog of recently widowed Evelyn Greenslade (Dench) becomes the narrative device. It’s Evelyn’s creative outlet, and also a way for her grown children back home to check on her welfare. The present, she writes, “builds and creates itself as the past withdraws.”
Beautiful elders arrive
Evelyn decides to move to the Marigold Hotel after discovering that her husband left her penniless. She doesn’t want to move in with her kids. At the airport she meets others headed to the hotel.
Graham Dashwood (Wilkinson) is a judge who suddenly moves to India to seek a lost love. Nighy and Penelope Wilton play the perpetually arguing Douglas and Jean Ainslie.
Well-to-do singles Celia Imrie (Madge Hardcastle) and Ronald Pickup (Norman Cousins) seek sexual delight. Muriel Donnelly (Smith) plays a former nanny in need of a quick hip replacement. Smith movingly transforms Muriel, who disdains the dark-skinned and refuses to eat anything she can’t pronounce.
Host looks on the bright side
The Brits are driven by tuk-tuk to the hotel, which isn’t anything like the internet photos. Dry British humor lends welcome understatement, believability and delight.
Their radiant host Sonny Kapoor (Patel) falls over himself with enthusiasm. Welcoming his first guests, he exudes optimism and genuine regard.
Some countries don’t honor their elders, he tells an investor. Sonny envisions visitors worldwide streaming to the Marigold Hotel. He promises amenities like working telephones and running water very soon.
Valuing self and others
Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) is a joy to watch. A dreamer who insists on resurrecting his late father’s hotel, he insists on treating disaster as triumph. “Everything will be all right in the end,” he reassures the visitors.
One of Sonny’s dreams is to marry beautiful Sunaina (Tena Desae), whose family is looked down upon by his mother. It’s fascinating to watch how Sunaina defers to her brother yet finds ways to assert herself.
India as welcoming melting pot
Madden conveys India in visceral, vivid detail. Poverty and reverence, street vendors and modern call centers coexist on hot, teeming streets.
Graham tells why he loves India: “The light, colors, smiles and the way people see life as a privilege and not a right. It teaches me something.”
Elders included and honored
Evelyn is able to secure a job as a consultant when a call center manager realizes that she embodies the values and sensitivity of his target market.
Graham advises some boys playing cricket, and joins their game. A wizened old servant helps Sonny’s mother (Lillete Dubey) make an important decision. This film uniquely honors elders with gentle respect.
Marigolds: symbolism and folklore
Bright orange marigolds are known as the “Herb of the Sun.” They symbolize passion and creativity. In India, they are offered to the Hindu deities Vishnu (the one who supports and sustains the Universe) and Lakshmi (the goddess of prosperity, wisdom and courage).
Early Christians called the flower “Mary’s Gold.” The marigold has been used medicinally and in wedding garlands.
Letdowns become opportunities
The trip was not what the group had hoped. For some, it turns out better than expected.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel affirms those often considered expendable in the West. It creates a space where generations and cultures meet.
Filled with beautiful turning points, the film is revelatory and honest. “We must celebrate the changes,” Evelyn writes.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 2012 / PG-13 / 2 hours, 4 min
Cast Overview: Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Dev Patel, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith, Tena Desae
Directors: John Madden
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Dramedy