This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
"The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" is a retirement destination in India for "the elderly and beautiful." It has seen better days, and if you want to see what the better days looked like, just examine the brochure, which depicts a luxurious existence in Jaipur, a popular tourist destination in Rajasthan. To this city travel a group of seven Brits with seven reasons for making the move — although the most urgent is that the local prices make retirement possible for them.
As we meet them jammed on the bus from the airport, we suspect that the film will be about their various problems and that the hotel will not be as advertised. What we may not expect is what a charming, funny and heartwarming movie this is, a smoothly crafted entertainment that makes good use of seven superb veterans.
We're introduced to them while they're still at home in England. In the order of their billing, they are Evelyn Greenslade (Judi Dench), who has been forced to sell her London flat; the sniffy Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith), who doesn't like foreigners but requires a cheap hip replacement; Douglas and Jean Ainslie (Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton), who are not merely unhappily married but have lost a bundle on their daughter's Internet company; Graham Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson), who spent the happiest years of his life in India and has now returned to seek his young love; Madge Hardcastle (Celia Imrie), who is open to the possibility of finding a husband, and Norman Cousins (Ronald Pickup), who is open to the possibility of finding a one-night stand.
Greeting them at Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is its exuberant and optimistic owner, Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel from "Slumdog Millionaire"). He's inherited the shabby inn from his late father and plans to run it himself, against the objections of his mother, who wants him to live with her in Delhi and marry the bride of her choice. Sonny already has a bride picked out: Sunaina, who works in a call-outsourcing agency — the film's nudge that the West has not only outsourced many of its jobs to India, but is now outsourcing many of its senior citizens.
How can I suggest what a delight this film is? Let me try a little shorthand. Recall some of the wonderful performances you've seen from Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy and the others, and believe me when I say that this movie finds rich opportunities for all of them. Director John Madden ("Shakespeare in Love") has to juggle to keep his subplots in the air, but these actors are so distinctive, they do much of the work for him.