The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel can best be described as a light confection of the type of quintessentially British humour that has proved increasingly popular with audiences over the last few years. Director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) conjures an inoffensive tea-and-crumpets sort of charm, and with an all-star cast including the likes of Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, it is impossible to imagine that The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel will be anything less than a hit.
The story follows the exploits of a group of jaded pensioners who, finding resources, adventure and purpose lacking in Blighty embark on a journey of soul-seeking in India. So far, so Eat Pray Love. But the story is given some substance by stand-out performances from Tom Wikinson as the repressed and unfulfilled high court judge Graham and Bill Nighy as the unhappily married Douglass and Judi Dench as the recently widowed Evelyn. Maggie Smith charms as the acerbic, xenophobic Muriel, seeking a cheap hip-replacement in India.
This disparate group arrive at the romantic but dishevelled Marigold hotel where the young, overzealous manager Sonny (Dev Patel) promises to help them ‘outsource old age’ in peaceful and tranquil surroundings. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’s appeal hinges on Brits-abroad humour (Muriel is scared of Indians) and is livened up by the romance between Sonny and his girlfriend Sunaina of whom his mother staunchly disapproves.
While the initial pace is satisfying quick (characters are on their way to India within 15 minutes of the start time) the film somewhat drags in the middle and the final act is too drawn-out for what should be light-hearted Sunday-afternoon fare. This would be acceptable if the additional running time contributed to further character development but it is fair to say that everything to be learned about these characters is revealed in the first hour, raising questions as to why the excess footage failed to hit the cutting room floor.
The film also seems to abandon some of its characters midway, Celia Imrie’s sexed-up Madge is mysteriously absent for much of the film, and some lose ends are tied together rather too neatly (or implausibly) to be convincing at the end.
At its peak The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel does evokes genuine warmth but it does not entirely escape the usual travel clichés. ‘India is noisy, the food is spicy but the people are welcoming’ appear to be the main cultural observations.
It would be churlish to condemn The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in its entirety. It delivers some real laughs and offers brilliant performances from an experienced cast; just don’t expect anything you haven’t seen before.