Mr. Antonini, who lived in the house next to ours in Brooklyn, had a rejoinder for all life’s ailments. “You think you got problems?” he’d say with a querulous edge to his voice. “Wait till you get to my age, and I’ll show you some problems!” At this point Mr. Antonini’s son Denny would make his standard quip: “We ain’t there yet papa, for crying out loud.”
This little exchange came back to me in a Proustian rush, as it describes “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” in a nutshell. The movie itself is a neat little piece of craftsmanship by John Madden (“Shakespeare in Love”), and assembles the iconic greats of the British acting world in a hotel in Jaipur.
“The Bext Exotic Marigold Hotel” is a coming-of-(old)-age story for a seasoned, mature audience. Madden seems well aware that this particular demographic is the most discerning of moviegoers, demanding of quality entertainment. After all, they’re the only people who seem interested anymore in getting themselves to a theater followed by a trip to some cozy bar for postviewing discussion, while the young and vigorous stay home for total SNS immersion and watch films online.
The elderly guests at The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, situated on a picturesque Jaipur backstreet, have moved here from the U.K. to kick off a postretirement fresh start in warmer climes. Recently widowed Evelyn (Judi Dench) is broke after long years of relinquishing all financial responsibilities to a bully of a husband. Graham (Tom Wilkinson) lived in India as a boy and on a whim has ditched his career as a high-court judge to return to the land where he knew real happiness.
Meanwhile, married couple Jean (Penelope Wilton) and Douglas (Bill Nighy) have come to a sour pass in their relationship: She’s sardonic and bitter as he’s downtrodden and resigned. Single lady Muriel (Maggie Smith) has come for a quick and affordable hip replacement, which back in England would involve a much higher cost and a six-month wait. Madge (Celia Imrie) is 70 percent sure she can find a husband, while Norman (Ronald Pickup) is 99 percent certain he’ll enjoy a succession of one-night stands.
Game and determined as the guests are to extract as much joy from their stay as possible, adjusting to life at The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel isn’t easy. Though it was advertised as a luxury retirement palace, in reality it has no doors and the rooms are full of pigeons, huge cockroaches and other creatures you’d normally only see on the Discovery Channel.
The exuberant young hotel owner, Sonny (Dev Patel, “Slumdog Millionaire”) had good intentions when he took over from his deceased father, and his plan now is to make the hotel a paradisal salon for moneyed seniors that is “so wonderful that they will simply refuse to die!”
The guests can’t agree with his point of view entirely, but they have enough worldliness and experience to go along, at least part of the way. Graham is the most enthusiastic and forgiving, a real good sport in colonial-style suits that echo his childhood as the son of a pukka sahib (first-rate gentleman). Graham tries to infect the others with some of his delight but it’s an uphill struggle, especially in the case of Muriel, who has a lively dislike for all things foreign and refuses to eat anything she can’t pronounce.
It’s tempting to think life after 65 is a rose-filled garden with many manageable adventures, amorous and otherwise. But the real lesson here is this: You gotta save to provide for those years, if only to plot an escape to India. Not a good idea to wait till getting to Mr. Antonini’s age.
“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is tailored to meet the cinematic requirements of the autumnal set. Precisely orchestrated, wonderfully acted, tinged with gentle irony and strewn with inoffensive idiosyncrasies, it stands in a zone labelled “comfort” in neon letters. It takes a quick look into the dark pond of senility and loneliness before stepping nimbly back and assuring us that all is well, nothing to get anxious about. Come, come, step away from the nasty pond. Have a G&T.