Can this really be the best and most exotic?
“I have a dream to create a home for the elderly so wonderful that they will simply refuse to die”
What if we lived in a world where every man had a British accent? How absolutely wonderful would that be…..if only it were true. I mean come on. The female population would be more inclined to settle down with a dreamy man who could woo them with that bloody brilliant speech. Besides being incredibly attractive speakers, the World of Brits seems more at large as of late. Maybe it’s due to the Olympics taking place in London. Not only are they hits with their cunning speech and location, but they’ve also found a place in the spotlight on television screens. It seems like the Brits are coming out on top in captivating series. Specifically on the BBC channel we encounter hit shows like Sherlock (4 nominations beating out AMC’s The Walking Dead) and Downton Abbey (16 Emmy nominations). Since I have yet to watch Sherlock, I can only speak for Downton Abbey. It is a remarkable series built with a solid cast which, in my opinion, is the reason for its popularity. I ask again, what’s not to love about these British characters? With this in mind, a movie has come along that contains some of the brilliant actors found in these series. It probably won’t stand the test of time like most, but it deserves praise none the less. If you classify yourself as having a passing fancy for some enchanting British television, I encourage you to read on.
The movie is The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and the location is India. The plot concerns the lives of seven elderly chaps and dames coming together to a place that is supposedly built for them from the ploy to “Come and spend your olden years in an Indian palace.” To some folks from different walks of life whilst in the same age group, this slogan seems overly enticing. The elderly are viewed as a bunch of old farts about to croak. Retirement is the life, children see them as a burden, their agility has significantly lessened, and luxury is a dream that doesn’t fit into their present conditions. They don’t see a purpose in life anymore. Or perhaps they’ve lost something or someone so significant in life that moving forward or starting over seems utterly impossible. What if they can find a new purpose, a new perspective? What if they can change and affect others in ways they never dreamed possible, especially at this point in their lives. The possibility of fulfilling dreams by a refusal to accept the norm for people their age is what drives them to uproot and move to place foreign and completely opposite of what they’ve always known.
What do they have to lose? Not much, according to society’s standards. Hence, all of them end up at said hotel. The “what if” is more than tantalizing in place of a dull existence. “It’s a luxury development where all the residents are in their golden years” says one of our adventurous friends. And an adventure it certainly becomes. Things are definitely not what they seem upon arrival. The culture is nothing less than an absolute shock, and the state of the luxurious motel is the complete opposite of “luxury.” Luckily, at the end of it all, they discover that “The light, colors, smiles, it teaches [them] something.” Let’s take a look at our lead characters and the qualities that make them unforgettable.
First, we have our leading lady, Evelyn Greenslade played by the talented Judi Dench (M in the latest Bond films, and also seen in Ladies in Lavender and the BBC series Cranford). Evelyn is the one who has lost her partner in life. The death of her husband has left her with a complete void in her little life that seems ever looming and encompassing. In addition to the void, he’s left her in a similar fashion with debt, causing Evelyn to sell her house. For her, a new start is all she can hope for. Naturally, she jumps on board to take off to start afresh. Despite the twist on what she expected, she indeed finds purpose in a job with a voice she can project for the first time in her life. All around her are glimpses of a simplistic life she never dreamed possible, and more importantly, people that can fill her life with depth and meaning. She finds that “India, like life itself I suppose, is about what you bring to it.”
Our next fellow is the leading man, Graham Dashwood, played by brilliant actor Tom Wilkinson (Carmine Falcone in the new Batman trio, also seen as Arthur Edens in Michael Clayton). This is a man whose success has been grounded in the high courts as a prestigious judge. He is finally done after a split second decision, and the move to India is all he cares about. We come to learn that this is not his first time to see the sights of India, for he lived there for a time as a boy. Every day he sets out to find someone whom he loved as a youth, but parted with disgrace and in prejudiced times. This man is the only love Graham has ever known, and to simply know he is alive and well is what drives him each and every day. Discovering that the guilt he carried his entire life was of his own creation frees him to accept redemption and complete happiness. To laugh and learn about the man before him with a family of his own connects Graham to the life he wished he would have been allowed to have, and the perspective makes his glass no longer half empty, but finally half full.
The couple in this film is Douglas (Bill Nighy also known as Davy Jones in the Pirates movies) and Jean Ainslie (Penelope Wilton as seen as Isobel Crawley from Downton). Doug and Jean seek a new life after losing most of the money they’d acquired for retirement after investing in their daughter’s frugal business. Jean is evidently repulsed by the opposite of what they expected, so she refuses to conform or accept the fact that she can start afresh. Doug has suffered years of abundant negativity and lack of respect from Jean, and he luckily discovers contentment and peace alongside a newly discovered connection with Evelyn. We find out whether or not this couple can put aside built up grudges and start a new chapter in their lives in this foreign place.
Feisty Muriel played by the wondrous Maggie Smith (Violet Crawley in Downton and Professor McGonagall from Harry Potter) finds herself in need of a hip replacement in a place where she’s promised a quick and inexpensive procedure. She holds her own with racist tendencies after a life of devotion to an adopted family who replace her with someone younger. Along the way, she fights to apply the idea that “If I can’t pronounce it, I don’t want to eat [or have anything to do with] it.” Muriel unknowingly bestows acceptance on a young girl accustomed to having no status or recognition in life. She finds new ways to implement her acquired skills including a head for figures in a new life which she thought was unattainable with her background. Ironically, it is Maggie who changes the course of the hotel.
Our final duo are the well endowed Madge (Celia Imrie) who is hunting for her next husband alongside Norman (Ronald Pickup), a man who is trying to remain youthful and vigorous by pursuing reckless short term encounters with younger women as a matured Lothario. Both go to great lengths of fitting in with the high society by pretending to be a sort of royalty from England. The acceptance of how old they really are is difficult to accept while desiring to feel needed and loved by someone truly worthy. Their efforts are highly entertaining and happily resolved.
The glue that holds all these characters together is the fisher who lured them in, Sonny Kapoor played by the up and coming Dev Patel (Jamal in Slumdog Millionaire and Prince Zuko in The Last Airbender). Sonny is the dreamer and part owner of the hotel, and his optimism despite the somewhat false advertising is evident in the idea that “In India we have a saying. Everything will be alright in the end. So if it’s not alright, it is not yet the end.” He deals with an overbearing mother trying to douse his dreams by orchestrating an arranged marriage, and keeping the woman he loves (Sunaina played by Tena Desae) despite his mother’s evident objection. Sonny sees things as they can be, and he refuses to conform to the standards of his family. He too receives perspective from the occupants who inspire him to fight for all he envisions.
India is a world of poverty, but simplicity. To have the ability to adjust to a foreign world at such a ripened age is understandable far out. But our friends thrive in a new place that is surprisingly fitting for what they need. Seeing past the face value of an alien land is what marks them as trail blazers. One of them admits that “Nothing here has worked out quite as I expected” to which Muriel replies “Most things don’t. But sometimes what happens instead is the good stuff.” Innovative beginnings and friendships are the key to overcoming age, and they all have the chance to embrace or reject this once in a lifetime opportunity. For The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel offers “a new and different world. The challenge is to cope with it. And not just cope, but thrive.”
My Note: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is brimming with revolutionary cures, vices, and opportunities for the overlooked elderly.
My Grade: B