Based on a novel by Deborah Moggach (who wrote the screenplay for the 2005 adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice), the well-written, brisk and delightful The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is an experience in feel-good filmmaking.
It begins by introducing each guest one by one until they form a disparate group of old people facing re-start and, in some cases, end points. This character-driven adult comedy is not terribly deep, shocking or dark. Instead, Best Exotic, written by Ol Parker and directed by John Madden (Shakespeare in Love), depicts realistic characters in a neatly framed story about making the most of life wherever you go, however long you live.
That’s fine by me. I like these bittersweet British ensemble movies such as Separate Tables, The VIPs or The Yellow Rolls-Royce, all by Terence Rattigan, or Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, Mrs. Henderson Presents, Tea with Mussolini or any picture about people of a certain age with something new and interesting to discover or re-discover. With a few surprises, the British bunch fly down to India for various reasons to live in what is promised in the title, which predictably turns out to be a run-down hotel that’s barely in business. With an all-star cast and four and five-star performances, especially by Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson and Penelope Wilton in a singularly powerful scene as a harridan, each character gets a chance to shed what’s burdening their long, ordinary lives and try to reset a course toward happiness before they’re gone.
A sham marriage acknowledged here, a bitter truth accepted there, a lifelong love redeemed, and of course the requisite young love, evoke themes of renewal, independence and letting go. Best Exotic is set to Thomas Newman’s score amid frantic modern Indian scenes in streets, festivals, call centers, crowded homes and narrow passages on motor bikes, taxis and other honking vehicles. Don’t expect anything but your favorite older actors at their best in simple roles about meaningful stories, and you’ll leave the theater smiling, even satiated, with a few colorful insights in crisp lines that favor sex, productiveness and the most holy places in our lives. See this leisurely Fox Searchlight treasure, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which was sold out in nighttime showings when I saw it, if you want to be moved to think, remember and feel good.