Why do people of older age seem so incapable of transformation? What circumstances and settings can unleash irresistible forces of change upon human passerbys, regardless of their age?
Conjure up those transformative forces. Aim them at persons of advanced age, entrenched habits and deeply-rooted fears. Throw in the wondrous catalyst of an ancient culture (suffused with modernity) where life is considered a privilege and an (almost) endless journey. You now have the plot of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
You can go to this film and bear witness, but remember the Indian expression: "Everything will be all right in the end. So if it is not all right, it is not yet the end."
Seven Brits -- one couple and five singles -- facing retirement conclude their finances cannot meet the monthly costs of the comfort they seek in their dotage (with one notable exception, whose motives unfold as the story is told). Their paths collide in Jaipur, once home to Rajasthan rulers, at the hotel that proclaims blissful, and affordable, premises in a distant and exotic world.
This film glories in its world-class cast. These are actors whose own personal lives embody the movie's message that youthfulness need not be confined to the young: Dame Judi Dench as Evelyn, recently bereaved and on her own for the first time in her long, sheltered life; Tom Wilkinson as Graham, who has peremptorily left his seat as a high court judge to return to where he came of age; Maggie Smith as Muriel, the cranky, discarded housekeeper who could not tolerate the six month National Health Service queue for a new hip that could be done right off by contracted Indian doctors and then rehabilitate at a "resort"; Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton as married couple Douglas and Jean, in the desolate winter of a loveless marriage; and Celia Imrie as Madge and Ronald Pickup as Norman, fellow lonely travelers in a world inhospitable to elders. This is an amazing ensemble of master actors.
Remember the boy who literally took the leap into excrement en route to ecstasy in Slumdog Millionaire, played by Dev Patel as the young game show contestant? This ebullient actor welcomes the magnificent seven to his hotel, where he is manager and about everything else in a place built on dreams. His business model is to "vendor out" services for those the rest of the world has in excess and wishes to be rid of, like the elderly. His energy is uplifting, but his hotel is a dump.
Upon their arrival at the Best Marigold, this proper group of despairing characters faces the brutal existential question of whether this is the sorry end of their lives. But they are not dead yet! They dare to pursue the ageless quest of reviving broken bodies and spirits -- just like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel also needs to do with its crumbling buildings and unsettled ancestral ghosts.
Under the crisp direction of John Madden, the cast takes us on a transformative journey. Madden has mastered the stage (the Pulitzer winning Proof), but his string of Hollywood films has yet to break the Oscar barrier, despite his ample employment of Oscar-winning stars. His directing in this film skirted with schmaltzy but, for me, never seriously crossed the line. This movie makes for smiles amidst tears.
This film was co-produced by Participant Media ("company with a conscience") that recently gave us The Help, Contagion, and, in the past, An Inconvenient Truth, Syriana, The Soloist, and dozens of socially-laced films. Each of their films is accompanied by a social action campaign: Participant's mission with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is to stimulate seniors to continued lives of adventure and contribution. As someone old enough for Medicare, I am all for that.
Will the film appeal to more than a grey-haired, achy population of seniors? I suppose it needs to for box office success. But as they say at The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel "... real failure is failure to try."
The opinions expressed here are solely mine as a psychiatrist and public health advocate. I receive no support from any pharmaceutical or device company.
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