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New York Times Review of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Stephen Holden

Seven Tickets to India, Please, and Reservations for an Adventure ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,’ With Judi Dench By STEPHEN HOLDEN Published: May 3, 2012 “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” belongs to the “Enchanted April” school of agreeable grown-up entertainment, in which transplanted Britons shake off the North Atlantic chill on a life-altering trip to warmer climes. Instead of Italy in the 1920s, the place of renewal is Jaipur, India, and the time is now. Its seven travelers are financially distressed men and women of retirement age lured by an invitation to “outsource” themselves for a stay at the newly opened Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in Jaipur. Upon arrival, they discover a place that is far from the luxurious retreat “for the elderly and beautiful” that its advertising claims. But after much grumbling, most of them take it in stride and begin to flourish. With a cast that includes Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson and Bill Nighy, this leisurely paced two-hour movie is a reasonably tasty banquet for the same Anglophiles who embrace “Downton Abbey.” Although it’s not as tidy or comfy as that self-congratulating fantasy of British noblesse oblige or as elevated as the Merchant-Ivory films set in India, it’ll do nicely. Directed by John Madden (“Shakespeare in Love”), from a screenplay by Ol Parker and based on Deborah Moggach’s novel “These Foolish Things,” it begins with brief sketches of the travelers. Evelyn Greenslade (Ms. Dench), whose blog entries, read aloud, set the movie’s timeline, is a recent widow forced to sell her home after learning that her husband squandered their nest egg. Evelyn is a game, can-do woman who is first glimpsed in England trying to communicate over the telephone with a robotic operator at an Indian call center. Once in Jaipur, she takes a satisfying job instructing workers at a similar center on how to converse with overseas callers. Douglas and Jean Ainslie (Mr. Nighy and Penelope Wilton) are a quarrelsome couple who sank their life savings into their daughter’s failing start-up. Jean’s refusal to leave the hotel once they arrive, and her rejection of all things Indian while her husband happily explores the nearby temples, precipitate an inevitable explosion. Madge Hardcastle (Celia Imrie) and Norman Cousins (Ronald Pickup) are adventurous older singles on the prowl for romance. At one point Madge tries to talk her way into an exclusive Indian club by claiming to be Princess Margaret, who, she is brusquely informed, died several years earlier. Norman, who in an early scene finds himself humiliated at a speed-dating event, is an indefatigable rogue with a pocket of Viagra. Graham Dashwood (Mr. Wilkinson), a retired High Court judge, grew up in Jaipur and is returning there for the first time since his youth. A gay man “more in theory than in practice nowadays,” as he puts it, Graham hopes to reconnect with his youthful Indian lover, whose family was disgraced when their affair was discovered. Muriel Donnelly (Ms. Smith), a xenophobic, racist termagant and retired housekeeper in need of a hip replacement, makes the trip because the surgery in India is cheaper and doesn’t entail a monthslong wait. The character has the screenplay’s meanest and snappiest lines, but it is beyond even Ms. Smith’s capacity to make Muriel’s eventual metamorphosis, from monster into sweet, caring old lady who befriends a low-caste Indian servant, remotely credible. Their host, Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel), is a wildly disorganized but enthusiastic young man who neglected to inform his guests ahead of time that the hotel has no working telephones and that some rooms are without doors. Mr. Patel (the lead in “Slumdog Millionaire”) is the movie’s comic grounding wire, whose hyperkinetic performance verges on slapstick. Sonny, under intense pressure from his haughty, domineering mother to give up the hotel and agree to an arranged marriage in Delhi, is in love with Sunaina (Tena Desae), a call center worker The screenplay does a reasonably skillful job of interweaving its subplots and of creating some mild surprises. This is a programmatically feel-good movie whose tempered optimism and insistence that it’s never too late to leave your comfort zone and explore new horizons stays mostly (but not always) on the safe side of sentimentality. Besides its sterling cast, its ace in the hole is its pungent depiction of Jaipur’s teeming streets, which give an otherwise well-mannered movie a blinding splash of color. “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). It includes mild sexual situations. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel Opens on Friday nationwide. http://movies.nytimes.com/2012/05/04/movies/the-best-exotic-marigold-hotel-with-judi-dench.html?ref=movies