Apparently it's never too late to run away from home. At least that's the hope of our sophisticated senior set who are facing their "golden years" with the added challenges of sudden loss, a flagging economy, and health issues.
Evelyn (Judi Dench), a new widow who's never worked a day in her life, now finds herself alone and deep in debt thanks to the husband she trusted implicitly throughout their 40-year marriage. Graham (Tom Wilkinson) is an exasperated High Court judge who suddenly decides he's done working while at someone else's retirement party. Douglas and Jean (Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton), a couple with a modest retirement budget thanks to their investment in their daughter's Internet company, are underwhelmed by the utterly beige retirement home their meager funds will buy.
Muriel (Maggie Smith) is a forgotten nanny/housekeeper who needs a new hip, and can only afford one through her London hospital's partnership with a facility in India. Norman (Ronald Pickup) is a randy bachelor hoping he can still generate a few sparks. And Madge (Celia Imrie), a serial wife between husbands at the moment, has just escaped the role of live-in babysitter to her suburban grandkids.
In short, this is a group in need of transformation, adventure, a reminder that there's still life to be lived in whatever number of years they have left.
They all get lured to Jaipur, India, by an exceedingly embellished website for a retirement home called The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful. (Heck, I'd get lured too with a name like that.) But when they arrive at its stone entrance after a long and arduous journey, they find a dilapidated palace run by an overeager 20something, Sonny (Dev Patel), who's naively and single-handedly trying to save it from ruin.
It's a disaster. But as anyone who's ever traveled internationally will tell you, disaster is a given—and how you respond to it determines whether you'll have the worst trip of your life or a grand adventure.
Our senior seven have mixed results—some adapting beautifully, enthralled by India's sensory overload, others seemingly determined to hate this new chapter of their lives—not just India, but retirement and old age.
There is great potential here for interesting stories about grappling with identity and aging, about West meeting East, about how it's never too late to change and grow. Instead we get several plotlines that are pretty predictable love stories—cue the Viagra jokes and Sonny's battle with his mom over wanting a marriage based on love. Seriously? With this amazing cast, that's the way you want to spin this?
And what a cast indeed. Dench is a study in quiet strength as a widow who finds a job and her voice, and surprises herself at her enjoyment in the journey; her Evelyn is the heart of the cast. Wilkinson, who's given the most interesting and unexpected storyline, is a needed steadying force to some of the others' shenanigans. And Smith is barb-tastic as a cranky old lady in a wheelchair (fans of Downton Abbey will love and recognize her role here).