"The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" is a kind of geriatric take on the familiar British multirelationship comedy — think "Four Weddings and a Funeral" or "Love Actually." A predictable and occasionally cloying story about a group of British retirees getting their groove back in a rundown hotel in India, it is saved by the unfailingly wonderful performances of its all-star ensemble cast.
For diverse reasons — depleted nest eggs, a yearning for adventure, a quest for a lost love — the group decamps for the city of Jaipur in northeast India, to enjoy retirement in the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which promises welcome, with a dollop of bygone colonial privilege spooned on for good measure.
Dev Patel ("Slumdog Millionaire") plays budding hotelier Sonny Kapoor, who is trying to live out his idealistic father's dream of running a decaying walled mansion as a hotel while trying to keep his interfering mother out of his love life and business affairs. Sonny is in a state of perpetual hypomania — a condition that seems essential to maintaining the delusion that he has a prayer of making a success of his creaky, run-down hotel.
Tom Wilkinson is pleasingly understated as a judge who retires from the civil service slightly before his time because of some unfinished business in India, where he lived as a boy. His experience makes him the leader of the group early on as they trek overland by bus to their destination. But he's a loner by temperament, and politely refuses to be drawn into the contempt that a few of his fellow residents develop for their adopted country.
Judi Dench is radiant as Evelyn, a recent widow who begins, cautiously, to experience herself as if for the first time under Jaipur's burning sun. In a triumph of makeup or nature, Evelyn's skin roasts and wrinkles as the movie progresses. Evelyn, along among her group, tries to make a new life in India, landing a job as a kind of cultural adviser to a call center firm and forging relationships with locals.
Maggie Smith brings an odd, irascible dignity to Muriel, a retired housekeeper defined mostly by her frequent racist outbursts. Bill Nighy is his usual nervous, mild-mannered self as Douglas, a henpecked husband who does his best to steer clear of the rages of his wife Jean (Penelope Wilson).
There are too many subplots to be convincingly resolved in a two-hour movie, so they must be wound up in a forcibly tacked-on manner. Oddly, this seems in keeping with the film's sense of itself as a senior citizen fairy tale. As Sonny repeatedly says about his efforts to keep his life from descending into utter catastrophe, "Everything is all right in the end, and if it is not all right, then it is not yet the end."
TITLE: "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel"
CREDITS: Directed by John Madden. Written by Ol Parker, based on the novel by Deborah Moggach
RATING: PG-13 for salty language and sexual references
RUNNING TIME: 124 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS