Only on two occasions in the past few years have I attended a movie where the audience applauded. One was for The King’s Speech. And the other, on Saturday, for the ‘Marigold Hotel.’ That’s saying a lot for typically understated Minnesota audience behavior.
Based on Deborah Moggach’s “These Foolish Things,” Marigold’s flawless acting includes the ever-masterful Judy Dench and Maggie Smith, with Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy and an acting team that gives you a strong family feel. These actors are much more likely to play authoritative, austere folk as backup to younger stars, but here they take the spotlight. Dev Patel of Slum Dog Millionaire is the vivacious, mouthy, Indian hotel owner.
Seven pensioners, each for their own reasons, are disappointed with what retirement has meant for them in England. Their money won’t stretch as far as it should. So they all fall for an internet pitch, advertising a retirement home in Jaipur, India.
They’re a mixed lot: Evelyn (Dench) is a widow left with a pile of debt; Graham (Wilkinson) is a gay judge who attends a friend’s retirement party and calls it quits himself; Doug and Jean (Nighy and Penelope Wilton) invested everything in their daughter’s internet startup and are left with nothing. Muriel (Smith) is a housekeeper put out of her job and needing a cheap hip replacement. Madge (Celia Imrie) is a widow in search of a new man, and Norman (Ronald Pickup) is an aging roué on the prowl for women.
Marigold is one of those films that sneaks up on you. First, you’re a spectator, chuckling at the Shakespearean lineup of the seven in the London airport—none of whom have yet met each other. And the next thing you know, you’re in the story.
The stories of the different characters float in and out, eventually getting tied together. The emotional depth of the characters is sheer delight and wonder. Ol Parker’s masterful writing is a mix of melodrama, comedy, and wisdom. Unlike some of the reviewers, I’m not willing to call any of the lines platitudes. Too few in today’s world seem to be familiar enough with the insights that originally generated such proverbs.
Three things struck me about the film. It’s full of the messy, trafficky, smelly world of India. You’ll see no Eat, Pray, Love scenery. Reality is a relief. I suspect, however, that Indian natives will be appalled by Patel’s stereotype. Still, every good comedy deserves a Falstaff.
It’s also pure comedy. Not in the funny—ha-ha sense, but in the true sense of comedy. The characters live life out of their own wits and insights. There’s no tragic isolation and no fairy tale rescue.
Finally, the movie is suffused with sex as joke. Unlike movies about the relationships of younger generations, and for that matter, porno, Marigold doesn’t take sex seriously. Rather, sex is an opportunity for laughter and fun. It caused me to wonder whether you need to be a sexagenarian to appreciate that.
Overall, John Madden’s directing takes this gifted cast and invests it with heart and honesty. Make sure to see it at a busy time of the day or evening. It’s a lot more fun with a full auditorium than in the off-morning showing.
I’m really, really curious as to how younger generations respond to Marigold. I’d appreciate your comments.
Flickr photo: iWooho Official1