The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)

Rated PG-13 . Our ratings: V -1; L -2; S/N -5.
Running time: 2 hours 4 min.

I know that there is nothing better for
them than to be happy and enjoy them-
selves as long as they live
Ecclesiastes 3:12

“There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.”

Sophia Loren

It is so refreshing to come across a film that refuses to stereotype the elderly—and which assembles such a superb cast of veteran British thespians. Director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love), basing his film on Deborah Moggach’s novel These Foolish Things, shows the various reactions of seven British retirees who come to India for various reasons, the one they hold in common being that their meager resources will go much further in a country wherein living is so cheap. The thesis of the film is well expressed by screenwriter Ol Parker in the film’s press notes: “I saw an opportunity to create a romantic comedy for a different generation, centered on people in their 60s and 70s. What was appealing to me is that as we get older, we tend not to stray out of our comfort zones. I loved the idea of taking this group of people and putting them somewhere where they are completely out of their element. I also enjoyed the idea of a love story about men and women who have had a whole lifetime of experience.” The Hotel’s enticing website paints a glowing picture of the place as ideal for “the elderly and beautiful.” Of course, it turns out to be far from ideal, infested with pigeons, cockroaches, and telephones that do not work. Thus when the party of seniors arrive, they are taken aback by its run down condition, one of them even wanting to transfer to another hotel. However the young proprietor Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel) persuasively promises improvements are afoot, and he is indeed trying to bring them about, despite his disapproving mother.

The Brits have come to India for a variety of reasons, the chief one being economic. With its lower standard of living India is more affordable for those with meager means. They react to the messiness and poverty in varying ways. One of them refusing to leave the hotel, and others soaking up its color and liveliness. One has returned to seek forgiveness from a gay friend whom he had been pressured to abandon years before, and Judi Dench’s character, Evelyn, even finds a job at a call center training the operators to understand the culture of their Western customers. This is where Sonny’s , Sunaina (Tena Desae), works. He will have to deal with his high caste mother before he can hope to marry her. Indeed, all of the characters have problems to deal with, and one of them even becomes the answer to Sonny’s dreams of keeping and improving the hotel.

This delightful film offers plenty to discuss about aging, the dreams of the young, and being alive to one’s surroundings. A good preaching moment: Evelyn says, “Nothing here has worked out quite as I expected.” Muriel replies, “Most things don’t. But sometimes what happens instead is the good stuff.” Though not intentional, this is pretty good theology, at least for those who believe in the Biblical God of surprises, who so often says, “Behold, I am doing a new thing.” This might be the best exotic movie showing at the moment.

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