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The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

By AARON MESH

"For the elderly and beautiful," runs the rest of the name dreamed up by Sonny (Dev Patel) for his dilapidated retirement resort in India. The arriving Little England expats qualify for both adjectives: Marigold Hotel is nothing but the dotty-pensioner scenes from British ensemble comedies, always the best parts. But for crissakes, don't call it a "movie for grown-ups." The film, directed by fustian Shakespeare in Love hack John Madden, is hardly more mature than The Avengers, and plays to the same desire to see big names join forces. I'm happy to see Bill Nighy, Judi Dench and Tom Wilkinson in any context, even if it's a geriatric version of a summer-camp movie, with a similar late-afternoon poignancy and corny lines. (Dench's voice-over is so packed with reassuring bromides that I eventually stopped hearing it, like Muzak.) It's not dealing in harsh truths—it's a sorbet to cleanse your palate after too much Mike Leigh—but the banalities are undermined by real disappointment and abandonment. If Maggie Smith's early racism is a touch too violent for her character arc, otherwise everyone is wonderfully sympathetic. Wilkinson in particular grounds the project with a typically righteous performance as a gay judge seeking forgiveness from a former lover. Marigold Hotel's only serious drawback, in fact, is its tendency to treat India as a place for white folks to find catharsis—a well-intentioned flaw it copies from a Wes Anderson movie. It's The Darjeeling Aged.

 
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  • Release Date: Monday, May 7, 2012
  • Critic's Score: C
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