In a brilliant bit of counter-programming a few weeks back, Fox Searchlight Pictures opened Oscar-nominated filmmaker John Madden’s (Shakespeare in Love) latest, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a charming, ensemble-driven comedy-drama headlined by Oscar winners Judi Dench (Shakespeare) and Maggie Smith (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and California Suite) in select markets around the country, including here in Milwaukee.
The film, about a group of British retirees who take up residence in what they are led to believe is a renovated hotel in India that’s not quite as luxurious as it was advertised to be but holds a certain charm nonetheless, has gone up against such big-budget, heavily-hyped Hollywood fare as Marvel’s The Avengers, Battleship, Dark Shadows and Men in Black 3, and has nimbly taken on all-comers and had generated rather impressive numbers at the domestic box office.
It serves as a reminder that it doesn’t necessarily take 3D conversion, action sequences, or gratuitous sex and violence to produce entertaining movies. Sometimes all you need is a story with promise, good direction, and seasoned actors afforded the opportunity to do what they do best all of which you get with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
These retirees who head to Jaipur, India to take up residence at the Marigold Hotel all bid adieu to their native England, for a variety of reasons, in search of a better life.
Recent widow Evelyn (Dench), has no choice but to find a job and hopefully rediscover her bliss along the way. Madge (Celia Imrie) is on the prowl, seeking out her Mr. Right. Douglas (Bill Nighy) has lost a lot in a bad investment and must convince his wife Jean (Penelope Wilton) that living in a more-affordable country is their answer to financial security. Norman (Ronald Pickup) is a lonely old man in search of companionship.
As we’ve come to expect, Dench (Shakespeare In Love) gives a superb performance and makes every new stride or breakthrough Evelyn experiences resonate. Imrie humanizes what could have been a one-note gold-digger in lesser hands. Like Dench, the always-dependable Nighy makes Douglas’ assimilation into his new stomping grounds a joy to watch, and Wilton is spot-on as his homesick wife Jean.
The great Maggie Smith, also appears as Muriel, an opinionated former housekeeper who tags along on the trip to get a better price on a hip replacement and keeps the hotel’s manager Sonny (Slumdog Millionaire’s Dev Patel) busy with her frequent and unreasonable requests. And Oscar nominee Tom Wilkinson (In the Bedroom, Michael Clayton) is compelling as Graham, a former judge who feels he has something else he needs to do and abruptly quits his job to relocate to India.
Grade: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
Stars: Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Dev Patel, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup, Tom Wilkinson and Maggie Smith
Directed By: John Madden
Screenplay By: Ol Parker
Based on the Novel “These Foolish Things” by: Deborah Moggach
Produced By: Graham Broadbent and Peter Czernin
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Rating: PG-13, for sexual content and language.
Running Time: Approximately 122 minutes
Budget: $10 Million
Release Date: May 11, 2012