Those of us in our 50s grew up going to the movies. But only occasionally does Hollywood take its eye off the 2 to 24 age group to make movies about something other than vampires, superheroes and animated whatever.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is different. It is a sweet story acted by a stellar cast in their 60s and 70s aimed at an audience over 50. It hits the target: the first wave of 78 million baby boomers is retiring, or hoping to.
Costing only $10 million to make, Marigold has grossed over $100 million.
Outsourcing a retirement is not something anyone wants to do. Going somewhere exotic might be fun for a week or month, but learning a new language just to transact day-to-day business, in unfamiliar surroundings, is a frightening prospect as you turn 60 or 70.
“Is this all that 40 years in the civil service will buy?” Jean Ainslie (Penelope Wilton) disgustedly asks her husband, Douglas (Bill Nighy), as they tour a modest cottage in an English retirement village, replete with handrails and panic buttons.
So the Ainslies become customers of Sonny Kapoor’s (Dev Patel’s) The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a British comedy-drama based on Deborah Moggach’s 2004 novel, These Foolish Things, and directed by John Madden.
Joining the Ainslies are fellow retirees Evelyn Greenslade (Judi Dench), Graham Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson), Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith), Norman Cousins (Ronald Pickup) and Madge
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Hardcastle (Celia Imrie).
Sonny is the No. 3 son of a wealthy family from Delhi. The Marigold is an aging palace that his father left to his brothers and him, but the others sons are too busy with their successful careers and have no interest in the place. Sonny has big dreams, and a big idea: Retirees around the world must find cheaper places to retire. The Marigold can be just the place.
Like any wild-eyed entrepreneur, Sonny believes 100% in his idea, but lacks capital and management skills. Sonny’s mother wants him to return to Delhi for an arranged marriage. His brothers want the hotel knocked down and the land sold. So it is dust, cobwebs, broken facets and an exuberant Sonny that greet the retirees after braving a difficult journey to get there.
Retired High Court Judge Graham grew up in India. He wishes to return there to explore a secret from his childhood. Money is not his issue. Money was not on randy Norman’s mind, either. The other retirees have different stories, illustrating how a person can end up in retirement empty-handed.
Widowed housewife Evelyn, who had never worked a job in her life, must find a job to pay for her Marigold stay. Her home was sold to pay off her late husband’s debts. Madge is currently in between husbands, with no prospects in sight.
And after caring for the house and books of a single family for decades, the bigoted Muriel was let go for a younger replacement, leaving her bitter and broken. She reluctantly opts for the India trip to have her hip replaced there, rather than wait six months in England.
Most of the party do their best to adapt to this strange land filled with bright colors, masses of people, grinding poverty and stifling bureaucracy. A bitter Mrs. Ainslie refuses to explore and spends her days at the Marigold reading Tulip Fever, a novel set in 1630s Amsterdam, capturing that city’s frenzy of commerce and mania in tulip bulb prices.
Meanwhile, her husband takes great delight in exploring new places, only to have Jean ridicule him each day when he returns to the Marigold for tea in the late afternoon.
In Tulip Fever, author Deborah Moggach effectively portrays a man caught up in a mania. The artist begins to neglect his work, be negligent in his grooming and is totally obsessed with trading tulip bulbs. He leaves his painting entirely to his apprentice. He has great success trading and then hatches a plan to mortgage everything to raise the money needed for his lover and him (the wife of the man who commissioned him) to run away together.
Jan the artist tells his lover, Sophia, “Luck’s been on our side, all these weeks. Tell me we should put all our eggs into one basket!”
Moggach writes, “He means, of course, the risk beyond all risks: the most dangerous risk of all. The king of kings, the Semper Augustus. Claes van Hooghelande has one bulb left.”
In the movie, Jean and Douglas are caught up in a frenzy of their own. They had dumped all of their retirement funds into their daughter’s Internet startup company, and of course, they were to be rich once the venture went public. But news about company progress is spare, and their daughter is uncommunicative.
The droll, easygoing Douglas takes it all in stride. But the regret-filled Jean blames Douglas for everything. She’s not enjoying the life she’s entitled to, that is, a life their daughter’s startup was to make possible. Instead, Jean’s stuck in India in a dilapidated hotel, eating food too spicy for her English palate. Her only brief moment of joy comes when Graham tells her the chef has agreed to simply grill the chicken for that night’s meal.
Retirees have time, but only some have the money to enjoy it the way they’d like. That’s the lesson in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Putting your head in the financial sand and depending upon others will have you working through retirement or pathetically trolling in bars for someone to take care of you.