It’s Downton Abbey: Imperialist Edition! A delightfully racist Maggie Smith. Penelope Wilton reaching Cousin Isobel-levels of insufferability. And thoroughly British understatements…The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has it all, and more! Proving that there’s life worth watching after 30, this movie takes a bunch of retirees and throws them into a whole new situation, taking the “fish out of water” and into India.

The Players:

Director: John Madden

Writers: Ol Parker, based on the novel by Deborah Moggach

Starring: Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Judi Dench, Celia Imrie, Penelope Wilton, Bill Nighy, Ronald Pickup, Dev Patel

Cinematography: Ben Davis

The Plot:

A group of stately Englishmen and –women travel to India to spend their golden years at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful. Advertised as luxury accommodations in the heart of Jaipur, the establishment is actually in “transition:” from standing to collapsed. The hotel’s optimistic manager, Sonny operates in a state of near constant delusion, he is so upbeat about his prospects. The hotel’s guests must learn to adjust and then thrive in a thoroughly new country, culture, and phase in their own lives, while its manager must stand up to an overbearing mother and proclaim his love for his girlfriend, Sunaina. Everyone comes out better and stronger in the end – that is, those who make it.

The Good:

The Cast: Get any fraction of the cast of Downton Abbey in a room and you’re guaranteed a good time. Even more so if one of them is Maggie Smith. The old-people ensemble is at their easy, witty, British best. Dev Patel gives a supremely charming performance as well, with a talent that belies his 21 years.

India: It’s always a visual smorgasbord, but India as a backdrop works particularly well here. This is especially because director Joe Madden deftly avoids visual tourism; there’s none of the gratuitous poverty shots that tend to come with the “white man abroad” theme. He takes advantage of the color and texture of the country and allows the audience to follow the characters on their journey. These are the ultimate Westerners abroad, not quite the Ugly American, but close.

The Stories: When a film tries to go full Crash, it’s easy to let a few storylines drop along the way. The result is usually a couple of two-dimensional characters that just fall flat by the end. Marigold Hotel takes everyone on a very full journey, and each character feels whole by the end.

The Bad:

Schmaltzy Voice-over: Dame Judi Dench blogs. In place of the “makeover montage” trope of the transformational teen movie genre, we have the “insightful narration montage” here. When things need to move along, we get Dame Judi Dench reading aloud her deep-thoughts-style blog posts while characters wordlessly discover things about themselves. This could be better.

Overall:

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a feel-good movie without entering Eat, Pray, Love territory with saccharine over saturation. It’s refreshing to see some edgy comedy that doesn’t trade in dysfunctional non-relationships, the overgrown man-child, or women verbalizing ever more inventive names for genitalia. Instead we get affecting stories about people dealing with the realities of lives long-lived.

Rating: 8.5/10