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The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Sep 25, 2012
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

In case you missed it in theaters, "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" is everything you've heard: Charming, fun, humorous, and suffused with the visual vibrancy of India.

The film (based on Deborah Moggach's novel "These Foolish Things") center around a residential hotel "for the elderly and beautiful." The hotel's young proprietor is Sonny (Dev Patel), a frenetic bundle of nerves perpetually on the move and on the make, trying to stay one short step ahead of disaster. (All you need to know about the hotel's slapdash prospects is summed up with a shot of a sign bearing the name of the place -- and an addendum declaring, "Now with guests!")

The hotel manages to attract seven guests, all but one of them intending to stay on permanently. The outlier is Muriel (Dame Maggie Smith, forsaking the gloss of her Emmy-winning work on "Downton Abbey" and taking on a working-class accent). She's in India only because she's been medically outsourced for a hip replacement, and she's not keen on the idea.

The others are there because it's all they can afford on their pensions, or because they wish to start an exciting, if late, new chapter in their lives. Douglas and Jean (Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton, the latter also of "Downton Abbey" fame) are an unhappily married couple who have seen their savings wiped out by a bad investment; Evelyn (Dame Judith Dench) has resorted to the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel as a way of not having to live with her son in the wake of her husband's death; Norman (Ronald Pickup) is an aged Casanova looking for romance; Madge (Celia Imrie) wants something similar, except it's dollar signs she's looking for in a mate.

Tom Wilkinson has, perhaps, the best role of all as Graham, a retired judge who long ago left India, along with the young man he loved -- an Indian whose traditional family was disgraced by his affair with a Westerner, and a male at that. Graham's hope is to find, and reconnect with, his lost love.

Lost love is about to become a theme of young Sonny's life, too, thanks to his mother (Lillete Dubey), who disapproves of both his business venture and his girlfriend, Sunaina (Tena Desae).

The extras on this DVD are slim. In addition to the usual theatrical trailers (for this film and others), and a commercial touting Blu-ray, there are only two brief featurettes. "Behind the Story: Lights, Colors, and Smiles" lasts for two and a half minutes and mostly consists of the cast, director John Madden, and screenwriter Ol Parker praising one another.

"Casting Legends" lasts for just under four minutes, and is more of the same, though with a focus on the ensemble of actors. It's not unjustified; these are some of the crème of England's actors, and India's as well. But there's nothing more here, nothing about India's emergence as a modern superpower, or the transition of the book to film, or even movies such as "Slumdog Millionaire," which paved the way for this film and in which Patel also starred. Maybe the Criterion Collection edition (and it would be a shame if there's not one some day) will correct this oversight.

Meantime, this is a disc worth adding to your collection on the merits of the movie itself.

Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
20th Century Fox

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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