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Film Review: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)

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(Click on image for full size Theatrical Poster.)

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) is about a group of pensioners who travel to India to retire in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. The Best of British cast are introduced to the audience; We have Evelyn (Dame Judi Dench) who must sell her home to pay her husbands debts after he recently passed away. Graham (Tom Wilkinson) is a High Court Judge who lived in India as a boy, one day at work he says “it’s time,” and decides to return.

Jean (Penelope Wilton) & Doug (Bill Nighy) are a unhappily married couple who have put their life savings into their daughters Internet start-up company which hasn’t yet paid, so are moving to India for a retirement they can afford. Muriel (played brilliantly by Maggie Smith) is a racist, retired housekeeper who needs a hip replacement. The NHS tell her she will have to wait months for the operation, or as an alternative they will pay for her to go to India where she can have it done straight away.

Madge (Celia Imrie) is introduced leaving her life of babysitting the grandchildren to go in search of a new husband in India. Norman (Ronald Pickup) is going to India in search of one night of lust and love after being lonely for a long time. I thought that having seven main characters might be too much to follow, but because the characters were distinctive and the film was well paced it was easy to follow the storyline as it developed.

On their arrival in India they find the hotel is a work-in-progress (the photos on the website had been photoshoped) and are met by the manager Sonny (the Slumdog Millionaire, played by Dev Patel). Sonny has this wonderful saying:
“Everything will be OK in the end, and if it’s not OK, it’s probably not the end.”

The group begin to adapt to this vibrant culture and spicy food as each of them start their new lives in India. Evelyn sees a job advert for a call centre, she takes a taxi only to discover that they want the younger generation – still she speaks to the manager and gets a job as a “sort of cultural advisor.”

Graham disappears early every morning discovering that India has changed a lot since he was young. Graham reveals to Evelyn that when he lived in India as a boy he had this Indian friend, and that one day it became more than friendship. He fell in love with this boy but they were discovered. Graham’s Indian friend was dishonoured and Graham left him, going to University in England. Graham tells Evelyn that he’s never been back to India since and that he feels incredibly guilty for leaving.

Jean makes a point of staying in the hotel and voicing her distase of everything about India at every opportunity. Doug goes exploring, seeing the beautiful temples that Graham recommends.

Muriel has her hip operation and wants to go home, the doctors tell her that she can as soon as she can walk on the plane. We see Muriel’s racist attitudes change as she befriends the cleaner at the hotel. The cleaner invites Muriel to meet her family, which Muriel does. Muriel makes a fool of herself by shouting at some of the children who are playing with her wheelchair, she thought they are vandalising it. During Muriel’s apology it’s revealed that for years she used to be a housekeeper for a family, raising the children, doing the house work and book keeping before the family replaced her with someone younger.

While all this is going on, Sonny is trying to convince his bank manager to invest in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Sonny also has a love storyline, he’s in love with Sunaina (Tena Desae), but won’t tell her as he feels he’s not good enough for her. Still they are in a relationship and she works for her brother – in the call centre where Evelyn is the Cultural Advisor. Sonny’s mother arrives at the Hotel to try and get his life on track including marriage a suitable women. Sonny’s mother feels that Sunaina is too modern and there is an hilarious scene where Sunaina gets in bed with Madge (not realising that Madge took Sonny’s room as hers didn’t have a door), Sunaina screaming realising it isn’t Sonny. Sonny’s mother comes in, tells Madge she “expected better” thinking that Sunaina is a prostitue. The scene made me laugh out loud, but it quickly returned to drama as Sonny introduces naked Sunaina to his mother as his girlfriend.

From the beginning Jean has noticed Graham the High Court Judge, being attracted to his social status. One day Jean tempts Muriel into telling her where he’s going by telling her that she knows of a website where she can get Hobnobs delivered to the hotel. Muriel tells her that he’s going to the public records office and Jean follows him there. Jean is about to disclose how she feels to Graham, but he beats her too it disclosing that he’s gay. Jean runs off embarrassed and returns to the hotel complaining to Doug again of her hatred for India. Muriel asks to use the hotel’s computer, sees the hotels finances and can’t help but organise them.

Graham gets an address for his former lover and with the support of Evelyn and Doug goes to visit him. Graham knocks on the door to be greeted by the wife of his former lover. She shouts over to a man sat at a table with other men. The man turns to see Graham and smiles, walks up to him and gives him the biggest hug ever. Graham stays to catch up, Evelyn and Doug head back to the hotel and you sense there’s at least a really good friendship developing between them based on honesty.

Meanwhile Norman goes out to a exclusive club to try to meet someone and sees Madge. Norman points out a women at the bar to Madge, she decides to help him along by going over to speak to the woman at the bar and telling him to join them in a minute. Norman goes over and we quickly realise he can’t be sophisticated and flirt well. Just as the woman’s about to leave, Norman’s honest and exposes his loneliness. The woman appreciates this and he ends up going back to hers, finally getting that night of lust and love he so desperately wanted.

The next day Graham comes back to the hotel and tells Norman of his amazing night. Graham tells Norman that his friend married a woman, but that she knew that he’d been in love with a man and would never love another. Graham tells Norman that he’s been trapped all these years by guilt and that his Indian friend has had a good life. Norman goes to his room and Evelyn sees Graham and goes to ask him about his night. But Evelyn discovered he’s died of a heart attack. Graham’s Indian friend conducts the touching funeral ceremony and all but Muriel attend. Evelyn emotionally affected by the funeral, talks to Doug about her husband being dishonest about the finances and of how she trusted him. Evelyn breaks down in tears, Doug comforts her before Jean appears asking for her husband back. Doug follows her back into their room before finally loosing his temper at Jean for the lack of respect she shows him.

Muriel goes to visit Sonny’s bank manager. Sonny’s mother tells him that his brothers who own part of the hotel want it sold for the real estate value. Sonny’s mother wants him to move back to Delhi for an arranged mariage. Sonny knows that they will knock down the architecturally beautiful hotel destroying his dream, and that he will loose the love of his life in the process.

Meanwhile Jean & Doug’s daughter has got in touch to say that her Internet business has taken off and she can pay them back. Jean & Doug pack to return to England, with Jean obsessed by “turning to the left” by which she means travelling first class. Before the taxi departs the hotel Doug pretends he’s forgot his wallet hoping to say goodbye to Evelyn. Evelyn’s just got back from work, but she doesn’t want to see him. So Muriel lies for her, telling him she’s not back yet and asks if he wants to leave a message. Doug asks Muriel to tell Evelyn he said goodbye.

In the taxi Jean & Doug are suck in rush hour traffic which is being delayed by a festival. Jean sees a a pedicab and offers the driver all her money to take them to the airport. The pedicab driver says he can only take one person plus luggage and Jean is finally honest with Doug saying that they haven’t been happy for a long time and that they’ve stayed together out of loyalty. Jean asks Doug not to come after her.

At the Hotel the other residents have been told that the hotel is closing by Sonny’s mother and are preparing to leave. Sonny rushes into the call centre where Sunaina works and tells her that he loves her. Sonny explains that he can cope with loosing the hotel but not her.

Sonny takes Sunaina on his bike back to the hotel to tell his mother that Sunaina is the ‘one’ and that he wants to marry her. Sonny tells his mother and she is reminded by a friend of the family that her husband said the same about her to his mother. Sonny’s mother concedes but explains to Sonny that she has a mothers right to worry. Muriel explains that the hotel doesn’t have to close, that Sonny’s orignal figures had been right – but that the hotel needs paying guests. Muriel discloses that she’s seen Sonny’s bank manager and that he has agreed to fund the hotel if Sonny takes on Muriel as the Assistant Manager.

Muriel asks the remaining residents if they will stay on at the hotel, asking Evelyn first. Evelyn isn’t sure, Muriel for the first time in the film stands up out of her wheel chair and walks a few steps. Muriel says if she can stand on her own two feet, so can Evelyn and reminds her she has work tomorrow. Muriel convinces Evelyn as well as the others: Madge, Norman and Norman’s new girlfriend to stay on at the hotel.

Doug walks the streets of the city overnight and in the morning returns to the hotel as Evelyn is setting out for work. They greet one another, Doug makes clear that it’s over between Jean and himself and asks if Evelyn is up for meeting up after work. Evelyn agrees and Doug asks how she likes her tea. The film ends with a montage showing Sonny and Sunaina on Sonny’s bike, Doug and Evelyn on a bike, Muriel greeting new guests at the hotel, Madge having dinner with a wealthy Indian and Norman and his girlfriend settling into life together.

The film is definitely a feel good film and one of the best films I’ve seen in years. I’ve watched it again and again. It has a captivating storyline with a good mix of comedy and drama – including some really funny one-liners. It is fantastically directed and shot meaning it shows the stories of the characters well. The characters are well developed, feel real and are excellently represented by the cast.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) is available to buy on Amazon and I highly recommend it.

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