[Screen It]


(2012) (Judi Dench, Bill Nighy) (PG-13)

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Drama: Various strangers learn about themselves and others while spending several weeks at an Indian hotel that turns out not to be what was advertised to them.
The brochure for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful shows a lovely resort in Jaipur, India. When a number of strangers arrive there, however, they discover that it's decidedly less than advertised, and all have different reactions to that. There's Evelyn (JUDI DENCH), a recent widow who's decided to venture outside of her formerly sheltered life for the first time and ends up taking a job as a consultant for a phone call center. She befriends Graham (TOM WILKINSON), a recently retired high court judge who's returned to his former home city with hopes that he might find a lost love from long ago.

Madge (CELIA IMRIE) and Norman (RONALD PICKUP) are also looking for love, albeit separately and of the new and wealthy kind, something that eventually results in him meeting Carol (DIANA HARDCASTLE). Love is the last thing on the mind of Jean (PENELOPE WILTON) who's reluctantly arrived there with her husband, Douglas (BILL NIGHY), after a previous business loan to their daughter means they have to consider retiring here. Likewise, Muriel (MAGGIE SMITH) isn't pleased to be there, especially with her racist beliefs, but she needs an affordable hip replacement surgery and this is where she's been sent.

The hotel is run by Sonny (DEV PATEL), a young man who's trying to rehab the hotel back to its more glorious days when it was run by his late father. His mother, Mrs. Kapoor (LILLETE DUBEY), thinks that's a silly idea and wants him to come back home with her, especially since she doesn't like the young woman, Sunaina (TENA DESAE), who he's dating. As the weeks pass and he scrambles to keep everyone happy, the visitors must contend with their reactions to the place, each other, and discoveries about themselves.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
In one of those bits of cosmic irony, I was recently speaking with colleagues about the dearth of new movie options for those aged 60 and above. Despite that being a huge and growing demographic worldwide, Hollywood only occasionally throws them a cinematic bone designed to appeal to their age group, related issues and interests and such.

You know, something like "The Return of the Big Chill." While I really don't want that to be made, the characters in it would now be in their mid 70s or so, grappling with an entirely different set of challenges, opportunities and more that life would have thrown their way. Things such as retirement, illness and death would be front and center.

Not long after that conversation, I received an invite to see "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," an awkwardly titled dramedy, but one that thankfully targets and plays to that older demographic. And considering that's it's a good -- but not great -- flick, one can only hope that its intended viewers show up in full force to insure that other such pics get made. (Sadly, its opening weekend was placed on the calendar as counter-programming to "The Avengers").

Rather than having the various characters already know each other and have a long history together as would have been the case with a "Big Chill" reunion pic, the ones here are assembled by sheer luck, coincidence or fate, depending on how one views such gatherings. The film is based on Deborah Moggach's 2004 novel, "These Foolish Things," and features an impressive cast of older but still potent performers, some of whom are better known to the general public than others.

Among the former is Judi Dench playing a widow tentatively doing something for herself for the first time in her life; Bill Nighy as a henpecked husband who tries to go with the flow of life's challenges, unlike his wife (played by Penelope Wilton); Maggie Smith as a racist woman who can't believe she has to go to India for affordable hip replacement surgery; and Tom Wilkinson plays a retired judge searching for his long lost love.

They're joined by Ronald Pickup and Celia Imrie playing separate people looking for new, wealthy mates (he ends up meeting a woman played by Diana Hardcastle); and Lillete Dubey who plays an Indian woman who doesn't like that the fact that her adult son ("Slumdog Millionaire's" Dev Patel) is trying to run the titular lodging spot or that he's dating a young woman (Tena Desae) who she doesn't think is class appropriate for her boy.

Their various subplots come together for a story that spans nearly two months as all end up staying at the hotel that isn't quite up to par with how the brochure made it out to be. As adapted by scribe Ol Parker and directed by John Madden ("Shakespeare in Love"), the little over two hour film goes down easily enough, with fairly interesting characters and storylines.

But, since there are seven of the latter, none really get the amount of time and attention they need to equally and fully engage the viewer. The target demographic probably won't mind as they'll just be pleased to have a film aimed in their direction. And with various bits of drama, comedy and even a touch of tragedy, they'll likely associated quite nicely with the offering.

I found it pleasant enough, and you certainly can't go wrong with the veteran performers called into action. It's just with so many roles and stories, most of what's offered feels a bit superficial rather than deep and impactful. In fact, it almost feels a bit like a pilot episode for a new series that introduces everyone, with the knowledge that it will have follow-up episodes to give everyone their due.

In the end, I wasn't in any particular hurry to check out of this establishment, but "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" could have used some more room to let us get to know and like (or dislike should that be the case) these people better. The film rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed April 11, 2012 / Posted May 4, 2012

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