A hotel that reinvigorates life

“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” could be this summer’s “The
Avengers” for the seniors crowd, judging by the near sellout Mother’s
Day audience, consisting mostly of older people, where I viewed the
movie.

Focusing on seven British senior citizens, “Marigold” is often
funny, sometimes touching, and ultimately an invigorating story of
seven lives, that despite years of experience, still have more room
to reach out and learn.

Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy and Maggie Smith, well known
and proven English performers, form the nucleus of this group that
comes together to stay at The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in India. As
expected, most of these people are going to experience culture shock,
and how they adapt, or fail to do so, forms the emotional foundation
of the movie.

Although an ensemble piece, Dench’s Evelyn Greenslade is at the
core, as her blog observations serve as the voice-over narrative.
Evelyn is recently widowed and along with coping with the sorrow of
losing her husband of 40 years, she discovers that all the trust she
had put into her husband to take care of her was betrayed by his
flawed handling of finances.

Also reeling from financial setbacks are Douglas and Jean Ainslee
(Nighy and Penelope Wilton), a couple whose marriage really has been
over for a long time.

Also in the group are two people, Marge Hardcastle (Celia Imrie) and
Norman Cousins (Ronald Pickup), hoping to find and renew a romantic
glow in an exotic location.

Wilkinson’s Graham Dashwood is a retired judge and the only member
of the group with a history long ago in India, but it was a blot in
his life of which he hopes to atone.

And finally, Smith’s Muriel Donnelly is a wheelchair-bound woman in
need of a hip replacement and clearly the fish out of water with the
usual bigotry that makes her initially scared and unpleasant.

The owner of the hotel is Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel from “Slumdog
Millionaire”) an overly optimistic dreamer hoping to turn the hotel
into the success that eluded his father. Sonny’s cheery nature and
ambition outweigh his skills. In the meantime, his love for Sunaina
(Tena Desae) is meeting family resistance.

“Marigold,” directed by John Madden (“Shakespeare in Love”) and
written by Ol Parker based on the novel “These Foolish Things” by
Deborah Moggach, weaves through the new challenges of these people,
who arrive to find the hotel not nearly as pristine and luxurious as
the brochure indicates.

For a person so trusting and protected most
of her life, Evelyn adapts well in the new environs, getting a job
and breaking down language and cultural differences. Graham goes off
each day in pursuit of reconnecting with his past. While Jean
sequesters herself at the hotel, immersed in self-pity and
negativity, husband Douglas embraces a tourist spirit and soon finds
himself drawn to Evelyn.

Marge and Norman offer the lighthearted aspects of the movie as they
go on the hunt for love and excitement. Muriel, of course, learns
valuable lessons about the unreliability of stereotyping, shocked
that what she viewed as boorish behavior on her part is
misinterpreted and actually appreciated.

Sonny grows too as he must summon the self-confidence to confront
those standing in the way of his objectives and his love for
Sunaina.

There are a few surprise resolutions and others that were quite
predictable. In the end, the lessons are not earth-shattering
revelations, just reinforcements of things already known if not
entirely accepted. These people emerge knowing a little bit more
about themselves, acknowledging that older age does not mean the end
of schooling.

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