If your Thanksgiving Day involves film watching and family and friends of “a certain age,” say, fifty-plus, you could do no better than select THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL (2011) for a feel-good, heart- warming tale about the power of the present.This British film by director John Madden (SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, for example) brings together an outstanding cast of seven characters is search of meaning in the next stage of their lives. And they indeed find new beginnings, along with the help of the young, bungling, and idealistic hotel manager, played by Dev Patel (of SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE fame).
One unifying dilemma brings most of the characters together: getting older without the right resources. Maggie Smith’s character needs a new hip and a better frame of mind. She has lost her job and her purpose. Her inability to feel needed has turned her sour and hard. Judi Dench, recently widowed, has discovered that her husband left her totally broke. Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilson play a retired couple whose minimal government pension has left them disillusioned with their lives and with each other. Tom Wilkinson has abruptly exited his unfulfilling job to re-establish contact with his past. Celia Imrie defies being relegated to the role of grandma, and Ronald Pickup isn’t ready to go down anytime soon (and he’s got the Viagra to prove it).
They all end up at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in Jaipur, India. Their money will go further here in this strange land…and so will their understanding of who they are and who they are yet to be.
The charming, bittersweet script is part brilliant and part self-help-motivation speak. One of my favorite lines is Dench’s sensible character, Evelyn, philosophizing, “There is no past that we can bring back by longing for it. Only a present that builds and creates itself as the past withdraws.” We watch each of the characters face their present realities and continue to grow with grace, and most importantly, with spirit and strength.
The film isn’t without its faults. But the very few weak or predictable moments are salvaged by the impeccable cast whose performances are painfully real and honest. Bill Nighy is flawless in his portrayal of a kind and curious man who keeps being surprised by himself. Adding additional depth to the story are the glorious colors and chaos of India.
Dev Patel’s character relies on the words of his father to help him through his struggles. He often says, “Everything will be all right in the end… if it’s not all right, then it’s not the end.”
And so the characters learn, too, that they have until their end, and until that time comes, there is still opportunity to create joy and happiness. What a lesson for Thanksgiving.