With such an esteemed cast and capable director, it’s hard to argue with anything “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” provides. The familiarity of the story’s revelations and relationships are a tad deflating, but the overall feature puts forth a great deal of heart and empathy, with emphasis on the aging process, rarely handled delicately in features. Although mildly comedic, “Marigold Hotel” is at its finest sitting back and allowing the gifted performers an opportunity to feel around the situations, usually discovering the most precise emotions to play. It’s far from a remarkable film, yet it strikes all the satisfying notes required to remain meaningful and entertaining.
Adapted from the 2004 novel, “These Foolish Things,” by Deborah Moggach, “Marigold Hotel” has a foundation of storytelling that serves the feature film version well. Director John Madden and screenwriter Ol Parker largely avoid the stampede mentality, unleashing a throng of impatient, irritable British caricatures into the wilds of India for an extended stay of slapstick and casual racism. The script does flirt with culture clash simplicity, but only to achieve travel realities and introduce the unadventurous nature of a few characters, chiefly Muriel, who’s terribly distrustful of outsiders, finding her natural state of defense softened some after attempting to comprehend the daily routine of one of the hotel’s female employees.
Instead of merely mining the fish out of water situations for cheap laughs, “Marigold Hotel” hunts for character, with various subplots winding throughout the movie, permitting the cast to survey personalities and develop vulnerabilities. Aging is a concern here, but so is love and loneliness, with dramatic arcs captured accurately by the exceptional ensemble, each seizing a piece of the overall emotional thaw as the group experiences the transformative effects of travel to a gloriously alien culture. For Graham, India marks a return to his youth, hoping to rediscover the liberation of an affair that was rudely cut short decades ago. The script is neatly arranged, giving each character enough room to grow and explore, providing a fulfilling read of every Indian mission. Even Sonny is provided with a full sense of conflict, finding the young man working to create a colorful destination, only to face opposition from his family, who’d rather see him settle into a conventional life with an arranged marriage.
Surprises are rare in the movie, but that doesn’t tarnish the viewing experience. “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” remains quite charming and poignant thanks to a reliable production effort, with special attention paid to a retiree age group that’s commonly passed over for younger concerns. The focus gives the film a distinctive observational quality and dramatic potential that would hang drearily on other efforts, but finds solid footing in the care of this cast and their effortless ability to project precise emotional constipation.