The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel gets a lot of mileage from the sheer cuteness of its aging English actors. Hot on the heels of the very successful BBC series Downton Abbey, Hotel features two of that series’ stars in roles that share much with their television characters. Maggie Smith plays Muriel, a disdainful and snobbish woman in need of hip replacement surgery, and Penelope Wilton plays Jean, the killjoy wife of a submissive retiree with meager savings. She and her husband Douglas (played delightfully, as always, by Bill Nighy) and Muriel and several other elderly Brits find themselves, for various reasons, traveling to the newly opened eponymous hotel in India. Muriel is compelled to go there by the promise of more rapid surgery while Jean and Douglas simply can’t afford a decent retirement in England. Evelyn (Judi Dench), recently widowed and also under financial strain, makes the trip for adventure’s sake, while Madge has her hopes set on winning the heart of a wealthy widower. Tom Wilkinson plays a solicitor who abruptly quits his practice to go to India on a personal quest that is revealed as the movie unfolds.
There’s a bit of a Fantasy Island vibe as these very different individuals with very different motives are thrown together in a very foreign environment. (Yes, there’s something very “very” about this movie.) It is not giving away much to say that some find what they are looking for and others do not. In spite of the large number of principal characters, the movie does not feel fragmented or episodic because their stories do intertwine with each other. Also linking them is the struggle of the hotel’s young owner, played by Dev Patel, who is struggling to raise the finances to resurrect his father’s abandoned hotel (which is certainly “Exotic,” but not really “Best” in any category) and to manage a romance against his mother’s wishes. It’s a very (there it is again) enjoyable visit with some charmingly funny and well, very British, people.