Movie Review: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

FIlm Review The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - Judi Dench - Rajasthan India

Judi Dench in Jaipur, Rajasthan

Feel-good movie set in Rajasthan, India

“India hits you like a wave. If you resist, you will be knocked down. But if you dive into it, you will be all right.”

These are the words of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel narrator Evelyn Greenslade, played by the luminous Judi Dench. She is one of seven British retirees who travel to Jaipur, Rajasthan, India to live in a restored “luxury” hotel for the elderly. Predictably, their expectations are not met — the hotel is a shambles and its future in doubt — and just as predictably, the characters who take up the challenges thrown at them find a new, unexpected life.

“What do you like about this country? What do you see that I don’t see?” asks unhappy Jean Ainslie (Penelope Wilton), who recoils in India and retreats into seething negativity. (I’ve seen this reaction among people quite often in India, unfortunately; and I’m sure other experienced India travellers have too.)

“The light, the colours, the smiles. The way the people see life as a gift, a privilege — and not a right. All life is here,” answers retired high court judge Graham Dashwood, played by Tom Wilkinson.

I liked the movie, but not for the expected reasons. I expected to love the portrayal of India — I did not. And I expected to like the direction, by John Madden who directed Shakespeare in Love — I did not. I thought Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) was clownish; and there are a number of cultural missteps that drove my movie buddy (who’s from Delhi) mad. He wanted me to especially mention the broken landline phone — “no one in India uses landline anymore” — and the scene where Dev Patel and his girlfriend kiss and hug in public. This is really not done in India, especially not in traditional Rajasthan.

Kishanghar, Rajasthan, India

Kishanghar, Rajasthan stood in for Udaipur in the film

What I liked least about the film was the sloppy script and direction. The script needs a re-write by a writer with more originality; and the pace of the film should be slowed down. It was rushed and contrived. Add another half hour, and flesh things out! The ending, especially, seemed slap-dash.

What I liked most about the movie was the effect India had on some of the characters; the superb acting; the way the topic of aging is explored; and, mostly, Judi Dench. I thought Jaipur would be the star of the movie, but it is not. Judi Dench is the star. Like the other veteran actors, she’s at the top of her game. Someone on Rotten Tomatoes said the talented British actors in this movie are giving a master class in doing just enough. They are all good, Wilkinson, Maggie Smith and Bill Nighy particularly stand out.

I saw myself in Judi Dench’s character — though I am not as old, of course. But I am old enough to no longer hang on to the great illusion of youth, that it will never end. The way she blossoms in India, quite soon after losing her husband of 40 years, is incredibly inspiring — especially to me, who wants to continue having adventures in India when I am her age. All the young starlets in Hollywood put together can’t hold a candle to Judi Dench: I think she is one of the most beautiful women in film.

Bravo to the filmmakers for making a film about aging. I would give a lot to see a sequel — picking up exactly where this film leaves off.

NOTE: To find out about the locations in the film (Jaipur, Udaipur and other places in Rajasthan), read On location in India with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

RATING: 4 marigolds (out of 5)

marigold-flower 100

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28 Responses to Movie Review: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

  1. linda May 11, 2012 at 8:51 am #

    I disagree about no one in India using landlines anymore. I know people in Tamil Nadu who do. And I even no one man in Mumbai who is actually quite wealthy who does not own a cell phone or computer. Long story how we met in Mahaballipuram, but he has no desire to own a cell phone — and he’s a movie distributor in Mumbai. For real.

  2. linda May 11, 2012 at 8:52 am #

    I meant KNOW! not no….

  3. Sandra Millar May 11, 2012 at 8:54 am #

    Can’t wait to see this movie .. at last a movie for people like me ( my age, my sense of adventure !!!) Would love to go on a holiday with this group ….. Hope there will be a sequel ( haven’t seen this one yet)!!!! High 5!!! Sincerely, Sandra

  4. Mariellen May 11, 2012 at 9:31 am #

    Thanks for comment Linda! I don’t think he meant it literally, I think he meant it figuratively. No doubt he didn’t like Indians being portrayed as being behind-the-times and incompetent. You know how it is. There is sensitivity around image. In this case, I agree. I wish they had cast someone with more acting ability. Can you imagine Aamir Khan in the role?!?!?

  5. Mariellen May 11, 2012 at 9:32 am #

    Hi Sandra, Thanks for comment! Agree, it’s about time we are seeing older people who still feel passion, want to have adventures, live life fully!

  6. linda May 11, 2012 at 12:54 pm #

    I think the larger message of the movie was about how India — at least with this group — helps people come into their own. Even the woman who left her husband at the end. She stopped living a lie.

    I know it did me.

  7. Mariellen May 11, 2012 at 7:06 pm #

    Yes, agreed Linda — both about India and the movie. That was the best thing about the movie, and it really helps that such fine actors were cast in most of the roles. Maybe I should give it four marigolds just for that reason alone …

  8. icyhighs May 12, 2012 at 12:24 pm #

    Really looking fwd to this.

  9. Mariellen May 12, 2012 at 3:02 pm #

    Thanks Icyhighs, I will be interested to hear your opinion. Please report back!

  10. Nomadic Samuel May 15, 2012 at 11:42 pm #

    This was filmed in my favourite area of India. I simply could not get enough of Rajasthan when I was there in 2010 🙂

  11. Laura May 17, 2012 at 12:21 am #

    Despite the sloppy writing and shallow characterizations, I love this film. The sentiments about the transformation travel can offer has stayed with me. My guess is the book delves deeper into each character. Am I wrong to think the India depicted in this film was a little more romanticized than the India in Slum Dog Millionaire?

  12. rose May 22, 2012 at 5:29 pm #

    Great observation. I have not seen it coming but at least I know there are certain wrong depictions in this movie. I would love to see this movie since I love Indian movies, especially 3 idiots and Slum dog.

  13. Mariellen May 23, 2012 at 11:45 am #

    Hi Samuel, oh me too, I love Rajasthan. I don’t care a whit that it’s the most touristed part of India, it’s still one of my favourites. And there are relatively few tourists anyway.

  14. Mariellen May 23, 2012 at 11:48 am #

    Hi Laura, Yes, I really liked the film too. I’m not sure romanticized is the right word for the way the film depicts India. It’s more like the filmmakers just saw India as background. I didn’t get the feeling they LOVED India or that they are Indiaphiles. They didn’t really try to get it right. Slumdog Millionaire does a MUCH better job at capturing India.

    I’m a fan of 3 Idiots and Slumdog Millionaire, too, Rose; though I don’t consider Slumdog to be an Indian movei per se.

  15. Doreen Pendgracs June 26, 2012 at 2:58 pm #

    Thanks for the review, Mariellen. This sounds like a movie that I would enjoy.

  16. Mariellen June 27, 2012 at 1:23 pm #

    Thanks for the comment Doreen — yes, I think you would love it!

  17. Linda S. July 3, 2012 at 12:24 am #

    Great post! I just saw the movie and loved it. I don’t know enough about India to realize that there were cultural missteps (maybe that made the movie more enjoyable for me!).

    I enjoyed watching how the characters evolved — how you can put a bunch of people in the same situation and watch their different reactions. Some adapt and are positive and others are negative no matter what (they lose out).

    I loved many of the quotes in the movie. You mention one of my favorites about how “life is a gift and a privilege, not a right.”

    The other quote by Dev Patel that I liked went something like this:

    “It always gets better in the end. If it doesn’t get better, then it’s not the end.”

    Lot of good lessons in this movie.

  18. Wrabbit007 July 8, 2012 at 9:23 pm #

    I watched this movie as well, and really enjoyed it! I haven’t been to India, so it was interesting to read about some of the cultural misportrayals in the film. However, I think the cinematography was gorgeous, and the richness of India was vibrantly displayed. I loved the character that Judi Dench played, but what struck me more was Maggie Smith’s character, who overcame her “old-school” racism to embrace and become an integral part of the hotel and its people. Plus I love Maggie Smith no matter what. I would love to travel to India – if you ever want a travel buddy to take under your wing and show all the beauty of India to, I’m your girl!!
    Wrabbit007 recently posted..Scotland: Day 2 – The Scott MonumentMy Profile

  19. Krishnapal July 11, 2012 at 1:57 am #

    Hey Mariellen…Lovely post !!!
    India does change your life, it touched the senses..It is land of extreme…Being an Indian I take pride in seeing the response all over the world for the culture and traditions of this land !!!
    India Thanks U 🙂


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