As I get older, I think more and more about the last years of my life. I wonder how I will spend them and if they will be happy times for me. Poets often refer to this as the autumn of our life, and lyricist Johnny Mercer defined it more specifically as our October. Mercer wrote the lyrics to “When October Goes” and when he died, the lyrics remained just words on a page. When his wife came across the lyrics, she offered them up to song-writer Barry Manilow to write the music for the lyrics. The work of two men that never knew each other, became a hit for Manilow and the haunting lyrics are still touching and meaningful today. As the song ends “I should be over it I know, it doesn’t matter much, how old I grow, I hate to see October go.”
In “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” a group of English senior citizens trek to India to spend the autumn of their lives. Evelyn (Judi Dench) is newly widowed from a husband that made all the decisions in their life. He left her in financial ruin and her son believes that he now much care for her. But Evelyn wants independence and a chance to rely on herself.
Graham (Tom Wilkinsen) is a very successful judge in England, but his personal life has been painfully lonely. He grew up in India and he has regrets. This trip may be his only chance to set things right.
Douglas (Bill Nighy) and Jean Ainslie (Penelope Wilton) are a couple that have just lost their retirement money on their daughter’s internet company. Jean can only see the negative in life, and Douglas still remains happy despite his financial situation.
Muriel (Maggie Smith) has just broken a hip and has to wait six months to get a new one in England. She is brutally honest to just about everyone that she is prejudiced against anyone that isn’t white and yet the offer to get her operation done quickly has her off to India – a land that she would have never ventured off to voluntarily.
Norman (Ronald Pickup) is a lonely, single man that refuses to admit that he is old. His stab of dating younger women has not gone as planned, perhaps India may have more to offer him.
And Madge (Celia Imrie) lives with her child and has become nothing more than a baby sitter for her grandchildren. She is lonely as well, and is venturing off to find a rich husband.
When the group arrives to spend their golden years at beautiful Indian Hotel, they are greeted by the owner Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel). Soon they learn that the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is anything but the best. And each new occupant reacts to their new environment in different ways.
Out of the group, one finds ultimate satisfaction, one finds fun on relying on herself, a few learn that perhaps love is still obtainable and many of them realize that India has become their new home.
“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” narrated at times by Judi Dench and takes us on a journey with characters that may not be far different than any of us when we reach their age. The journey in life is juxtaposed to the physical journey to India. And as with most journeys, some people are better travelers than others.
Judi Dench play a character much different than the strong women that she normally portrays. This is a softer side of Dench, and an incredibly rich story for her to play. I enjoyed Tom Wilkinson immensely in this film. Wilkinson always delivers wonderful performances, but this is one of his very best. It is a more subtle role, but still fascinating.
Maggie Smith never disappoints, and she can add her work in “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” to her large list of marvelous roles. She plays the cantankerous Muriel to perfection.
Penelope Wilton is good, but her character is never given room to grow and is very one-dimensional. I would have loved to see her character have more stretch.
Bill Nighy, Ronald Pickup and Celia Imrie all add to the charm of the film and are a pleasure to take part in their discoveries.
Dev Patel, first known to many of us for his role in “Slumdog Millionaire,” has a wonderful role as the dreamer with good intentions. Tena Desae is lovely as Patel’s modern girlfriend and has some really fun scenes in the film.
Filmed on location, the beauty of India along with a nicely-written script makes for a pleasant visit to “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” And when my October of life comes, will I venture off to another part of the world? I have never really thought of doing something that daring, but if “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is still in business it may be tempting. And if I do, I think I will agree with Mercer – that it is hard to see October go.
“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is rated PG-13 for sexual content and language and has a run-time of 2 hours and 4 minutes.
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-Kay Shackleton is a film historian with special focus on Silent Films, see her work at SilentHollywood.com