Has Provence been outsourced to Jaipur? If ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ is anything to go by, it seems that, along with computer programming and call centres, the new Indian economy covers picturesque getaways for middle-aged, middle-class, middle-of-a-mild-midlife-crisis British folks looking for a change of scenery. ‘Marigold’ deserves a nod for putting retirement-age characters front and centre but its sentimental platitudes and by-the-numbers storytelling offer little actual enjoyment.
The cast constitutes a dream team of veteran thesps: Judi Dench is a widow emerging from her shell; Tom Wilkinson is a judge revisiting his youthful home; Penelope Wilton and Bill Nighy are navigating a marriage on the rocks; Celia Imrie and Ronald Pickup are randy old goats; and Maggie Smith, as a hip-op patient, offers a working-class variant on her sarky-but-shrewd ‘Downton Abbey’ shtick. They are all on enjoyable form but none is really challenged.
Ol Parker’s screenplay is based on Deborah Moggach’s novel ‘These Foolish Things’. The film doesn’t quite sink to the dewy-eyed clichés of Orientalism derided in the book (‘oh the poverty, oh the sunsets!’) but it still presents a superficial take on contemporary India: beaming kids play cricket, wise old men proffer advice and standard-issue star-crossed young lovers (Dev Patel and Tena Desae) are saddled with lines like ‘You’re part of a modern India my mother cannot welcome!’
Such tin-eared dialogue is pretty typical, and the various plot strands trundle along to their predictable termini, the occasional unexpected quirk quickly reabsorbed into the flow. With so many characters to juggle, several end up getting short shrift, and the lessons learned are banal in nature and schematic in execution. They might have just got away with it as a Sunday night mini-series but from a cinematic perspective, this trip shouldn’t have been embarked upon.