- Last Updated: 1:49 PM, May 4, 2012
- Posted: 10:50 PM, May 3, 2012
THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL
Stop and have a sniff. Running time:124 minutes. Rated PG-13 (sexual situations, profanity, adult themes). At the Lincoln Square.
Sex, drinking, all manner of carousing — it’s shocking what old people are up to these days. It’s hard to begrudge them a good time in the amiable if corny “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” an Elderhostel “Eat Pray Love.”
Seven retired Britons move to India from their blighted Blighty for different reasons (a hip replacement, a yearning to find a lost love, boredom, lack of money) and take up lodging in what is billed as a luxury property for the golden years. In fact, as we see through the eyes of such overqualified actors as Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson and Maggie Smith, the place is a crumbly dump managed by a bubbly goof (Dev Patel of “Slumdog Millionaire,” giving an embarrassingly servile performance that’s the rough equivalent of a minstrel act).
The gang of strangers must learn to put aside their inhibitions and learn to live a little while they still have time. There’s a dour ex-judge (Wilkinson) who grew up in India, a former housekeeper-nanny (Smith) who also happens to be a brilliant bookkeeper and needs a cheap hip operation, a broke widow (Dench), a feuding couple (Nighy and Penelope Wilton) who lost much of their nest egg in a bad investment, a bored grandma (Celia Imrie) and a hopeful old lecher played by an actor whose name probably got him the gig: Ronald Pickup.
With nine principal characters (including the hotel manager’s girlfriend), the movie can’t quite develop them all: Mr. Pickup’s character has his one joke, and that’s it. The plotting is lazy, with fixes to problems springing up too easily.
Yet the movie has an overstuffed heart, and the witty script offers lots of gentle laughs. This may be a sitcom, but it’s a good sitcom: “I don’t want to be old,” someone says. “I don’t want to be the first person they let off the plane in a hostage crisis.”
The manager thinks the idea of outsourcing retirement to the developing world is sure to be a hit — “It’s not just the British. There are many other countries where they don’t like old people.”
The characters are easy to get along with, even Smith’s casually racist but funny working-class battle-ax. In her suitcase she carries HP Sauce and English cookies, and she refuses to eat any food she can’t pronounce. Naturally she will be the one to forge a relationship with a servant from the underclass formerly known as untouchables.
Wilkinson’s reflective and regretful searcher, burdened by secrets, is also touching, as are Dench and Nighy’s creations, so it’s easy to cheer them on as they inch toward revelations and rebirth. Director John Madden, who also did “Shakespeare in Love,” yet has always been essentially a television director, shoots everything in tones of amber, and never fails to put a little too much honey in the tea. But the better actors in the cast ably restrain themselves. The movie is moderately cloying, not massively so.
Another source of considerable appeal is the central idea that retirement is an opportunity to start over, or at least correct a few errors, and though the portrait of Jaipur, India, is somewhat idealized, the film does give some taste of the slums and overcrowding amid the bustle of new high-rises. Someone says India is like a wave: Resist and you’ll be knocked over, but dive into it and you’ll swim out the other side. Even in countries other than India, this is not bad advice for the mellow years.