Summer sleeper hits, by their very nature, catch box office watchers off guard. One 2012 Summer release left virtually every cinema watcher’s mouth agape.
Who would have guessed 2012’s summer sensation would feature an aged cast spending their golden years in a ramshackle Indian hotel?
“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” earned $46 million in domestic ticket sales, a stunning figure for any indie import, let alone one with cast full of demographically unfriendly seniors.
Director John Madden (“Shakespeare in Love”) isn’t interesting in “cute” golden oldies, or sexually hungry types who say the darndest things. His film examines people willing to shake up their lives no matter the consequences.
Bill Nighy, Judi Dench and Tom Wilkinson co-star as older Brits who heed the siren song of a lush Indian resort. Or, at least that’s what the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel looks like from the brochure. In reality, the place is a mess, a crumbling old building with character to spare but not much else.
Who needs a door on your room or a working phone?
Evelyn (Dench) recently lost her husband and isn’t sure what life still holds for her. Douglas (Nighy) is a decent man stuck in a strained marriage. And Graham (Wilkinson) once called India home and wants to reconnect with a specific part of his romantic past.
Maggie Smith’s Muriel, a racist meanie, checked in to get a new hip from a nearby Indian hospital. Seems she would have to wait six months for a British doctor to do the same.
The guests commiserate about India’s colorful culture, from the throngs of begging children to the exotic fare served up by friendly locals. It’s culture shock, but one that shakes the guests from their life stupor.
“Hotel” weaves the various story lines together without any overstaying their welcome. The wonderful cast is stellar in their individual close-ups, but the film’s vibrancy lies in their collective story. The gentle bond between Douglas and Evelyn, in particular, is told with tender gestures and glances.
And yes, the film does address loneliness and the need for sexual partners, but Madden and co. treat the subjects with reverence and modest humor they deserve.
Dev Patel, who plays the hotel’s frazzled manager, may be decades younger than his co-stars. His wide-eyed devotion to the hotel’s promise provides a youthful counterpoint to the guests’ desire to embrace the unknown.
The film only stumbles with a “Love Boat”-style third act, as several stubborn character arcs suddenly slip into place for maximum good vibes.
The Blu-ray extras include “Behind the Story: Light, Color and Smiles,” essentially a highlight clips reel take on the film. “Casting Legends” appears like yet another back-slapping affair, but the featurette provides the kind of keen, telling details that enhance the post-movie experience.
The short but enticing, “Welcome to the ‘Real’ Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” describes the search for the film’s critical set.
“The casting of the hotel was probably the biggest challenge … the monsoon rains have scarred and blackened the walls,” Madden says. The director’s cast had no problem with the hotel which plays such a key role in the film.
“I’d be perfectly happy here,” Nighy says.
Follow Christian Toto on Twitter @TotoMovies