Each week, the Reel Dad checks the nutritional value of a movie — new or classic — to help families choose what to watch. This week’s pick is a new film by the director of Shakespeare in Love, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
Like a most enjoyable evening with old friends, the new film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel greets us with familiar faces, comforts us with predictable conversation and moves us with a sincerity of spirit. While, at moments, we may feel we have experienced this before, we are touched by the sincerity and humanity of the piece no matter how easily we may guess what happens next.
From its opening moment, Marigold Hotel lets us know what kind of movie meal will be served. The lovely Judi Dench strikes a sympathetic chord in her first moments on screen as a British widow who is unable to make ends meet after her husband dies. She chooses, in a moment of surprising courage, to venture to India to get her life together at a vacation spot that promises to heal all wounds in a spiritual setting. There she is joined by a retired British couple — played by Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton — who look to the journey as a chance to escape their reality and each other — as well as a somber bachelor, portrayed by Tom Wilkinson, who looks to the future to remedy the sadness of the past. As icing on the cake, the marvelous Maggie Smith arrives as a pensioner who needs medical attention she can only afford to receive in India. When we first observe this group, as they travel, we know we are about to spend a delightful time with old movie friends.
As the visitors settle into their less-than-luxurious accommodations — despite the marketing promises — and adjust to new routines, they begin to discover new hopes for the future. Like many who retire, most do not like the idea that their best years are in the past; they intend to be vital, contributing people. But realities have a way of deflating dreams as some find that coping with the truth about today makes hoping for tomorrow challenging. The film touches us with its authentic candor about what we can hope to experience, and may have to settle for, as we grow older.
While the screenplay by Ol Parker, based on the novel by Deborah Maggoch, charters an expected journey of challenge, learning and discovery, the fresh direction by John Madden lifts the material above its primary ingredients. Madden, as he did with Shakespeare in Love and Mrs. Brown, brings a visual sensibility that sustains our interest during moments when the reflections can become repetitious. His creation of a unique world in this corner of India invites us to leave behind our expectations for movies to be logical. Something magical happens in the lives we experience as we learn from the lessons these special people share.
The performances are sublime. Dench is touching as the widow who wants to believe in her husband’s legacy even as she questions some of his fictions. Smith, as usual, captures the humorous nuance of every word and expression, and Wilkinson makes the brooding bachelor a believable character of depth and feeling. What a treat to experience veteran performers who relish every moment they can celebrate their craft.
As with the best of evenings with friends, we leave Marigold Hotel wishing the visit could continue. No matter how familiar it may be, this visit makes us feel most welcome.
Film Nutritional Value
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
* Content: Medium. While the content may feel familiar, the sincerity of the moral overcomes what may seem predictable.
* Entertainment: High. Thanks to the director’s strong visual sense, and a dream cast of pros, this visit to India is special.
* Message: High. We all want to make the most of each experience no matter when these opportunities may occur.
* Relevance: High. Any opportunity to explore the lives of retired people is relevant to a world where the baby boomers continue to retire.
* Opportunity for Dialogue: High. All family members will find something to talk about as, together, you take a trip to India that you will remember.
(The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is rated PG-13 for content and language. The film runs 124 minutes.)
4 Popcorn Buckets