This review was first published on Pol Culture.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a sparkling cross-cultural ensemble comedy. Seven British retirees--a widowed housewife (Judi Dench), a gay judge (Tom Wilkinson), a would-be Lothario (Ronald Pickup), a perennial husband-hunter (Celia Imrie), an unhappy couple (Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton), and a former housekeeper (Maggie Smith)--relocate from England to an Indian retirement resort hotel. They are enticed by the picturesque images on the hotel’s website, but when they arrive, they find a dilapidated establishment run by an energetic, well-meaning, but rather inept manager (Dev Patel). But they by and large settle in, and each comes to terms with India--and life--in their own ways. The script, credited to Ol Parker, doesn’t have many surprises, but it gives an entertaining spin to the personal odyssey of each character. The cast does a great deal to give the film its charm. Dench, Wilkinson, and Smith are particular standouts. Patel can seem on the manic side at times, but if one gets used to it, one may look back on him just as fondly. But the real star of the film is director John Madden, whose work is dazzling. The comic scenes crackle, the dramatic ones are beautifully shaped, and there’s an embrace-the-world quality to his staging. The liveliness of the outdoor Indian locations and the intimacy of the indoor ones are both extraordinarily vivid. He captures the chaotic though vibrant experience of India, and keeps the story dancing as he goes. It’s the work of a remarkably skilled and assured craftsman. The lovely, sun-kissed cinematography is by Ben Davis, and Chris Gill provided the perfectly timed editing. The source novel is These Foolish Things, by Deborah Moggach.