Review: Wonderful cast charms in 'Best Exotic Marigold Hotel'

Evelyn (Judi Dench) feels at home in the crowded streets of Jaipur in "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel."

Photo by Ishika Mohan

Evelyn (Judi Dench) feels at home in the crowded streets of Jaipur in "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel."

A group of British retirees decide to "outsource" their retirement to less expensive and seemingly exotic India. Enticed by advertisements for the newly restored Marigold ...

Rating: PG-13 for sexual content and language

Length: 118 minutes

Released: May 4, 2012 Limited

Cast: Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Dev Patel

Director: John Madden

Writer: Deborah Moggach

More info and showtimes »

You're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but in the case of "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," you might as well. It looks like a charming, feel-good movie about retirees, and it is.

Of course, with a cast that includes Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson and Bill Nighy, it's also a film with great performances that ring true in the midst of a fanciful setting. And it rakes through more than its share of issues in its endearing 124 minutes.

"The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" tells the story of a handful of British golden boomers, baby boomers who have hit their golden years and, rightly or wrongly, expect the reward implicitly promised to their generation. They've worked hard, raised families and served society, and now they'd like a well-earned rest in pleasant, comfortable surroundings.

Varying circumstances bring together widow Evelyn Greenslade (Dench); retired civil servant Douglas Ainslee (Nighy) and wife Jean (Penelope Wilton); retired judge Graham Dashwood (Wilkinson); divorced grandmother Madge Hardcastle (Celia Imrie); faded ladies' man Norman Cousins (Ronald Pickup); and retired housekeeper Muriel Donnelly (Smith).

All these folks stumble upon advertising for the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a newly renovated hotel in Jaipur, India, that caters to seniors. When they arrive, they find that the hotel doesn't live up to its billing, but the eager young manager, Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel), is so genial and persuasive that they stay.

Some of the Brits quickly fall under India's charm. Others take longer to come around, while others refuse to embrace anything different. Most of the seniors are on a quest of some kind though some don't realize that immediately.

With an ensemble, there are always characters that stand out and ones that are subordinate. Evelyn, Graham, Douglas and Muriel get the most attention and the most satisfactory resolutions; Jean, Norman and Madge are more two-dimensional, but Wilton, Pickup and Imrie give them life.

The romantic adventures of Sonny and his girlfriend, Sunaina (Tena Desae), add humor, complexity and a youthful angle to the proceedings. Patel ("Slumdog Millionaire") gives voice to the Indian philosophy that colors the film: "Everything will be all right in the end. If it's not all right, then it's not the end."

The screenplay by Ol Parker (based on the novel "These Foolish Things" by Deborah Moggach) addresses the obvious — ageism and the patronization of seniors. But it also deals with outsourcing and customer service, racial prejudice and bigotry, class prejudice among Brits and Indians, the taboos of homosexuality, sexuality among seniors, fallout from the world's financial crisis, employer-worker relations and respect for history vs. modernization.

Director John Madden ("Shakespeare in Love") elicits wonderful performances from his cast and creates a setting that feels both exotic and honest. It may be their colonial history that draws Brits to the magic of India, but "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" communicates that magic with viewers of all backgrounds.

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