As tempting as it may be, it isn’t wise for film producers to sign a group of famous, talented actors, throw them into a location shoot and expect everything to work out all right in the end. But once in a while, it’s positively foolproof.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

At the Michigan
Fox Searchlight


Such is the case with “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” which features an all-star cast that performs superbly without the gimmicks of avenging the Earth or robbing Andy Garcia (though both are admirable pursuits). The charming film, an adaptation of Deborah Moggach’s “These Foolish Things,” follows seven British senior citizens as they seek adventure and peace in Jaipur, India, at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (for the Elderly and Beautiful).

The absurdly talented ensemble is led by Dame Judy Dench (“My Week With Marilyn”), undeterred by her traitorous corneas as she expertly portrays the shy but determined Evelyn Greenslade. Evelyn is truly independent for the first time in her life, but at the price of having just lost her husband of 40 years. She is equal parts alone and lonely, but Dench knows the distinction and plays the fine line to perfection. Evelyn isn’t in Jaipur in search of a grand adventure, but to live out her new life in a new place, free of judgment.

That effortless inhabitance of character pervades the cast; Tom Wilkinson (“Michael Clayton”) as a man searching for his lost love, Bill Nighy (“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1”) and Penelope Wilton (TV’s “Downton Abbey”) as an incompatible married couple and Maggie Smith (the “Harry Potter” films) as a delightfully sassy old racist undergoing hip surgery.

And even though the acting personas are somewhat larger than life — it may take a while to stop mentally referring to them by their real names (or as McGonagall and Harriet Jones) — there isn’t a moment in the film when this ensemble doesn’t bring their confused band of travelers to life with splendid ease. They are every bit as real as the elderly couple sitting in front of you in the theater (they’ll be there, I promise) and deserve to be imagined complexly.

Anyone who’s ever taken a Humanities class can attest, older people are among society’s most marginalized individuals. Especially in the media, where youth and beauty are all but synonymous and coveted to extremes. In the “riot of noise and color” that is life in a bustling Indian city, the travelers are treated as respected guests instead of ticking time bombs.

Dev Patel (“Slumdog Millionaire”) plays Sonny, the token young character, a goofy and ambitious entrepreneur behind the hotel. Though playing an innovative Indian of modest means isn’t exactly branching out, the role suits him even more than his previous work, emphasizing his respectable comedic chops over his decent-at-best dramatic ones. Sonny’s story ties the travelers together as he struggles with financial problems, a controlling mother and big dreams. They see their past mistakes in his present and in offering him wisdom, set their own spirits free.

Despite the simplicity of its premise, “Marigold Hotel” succeeds impeccably in combining comedy and solemnity with expert execution. It’s a film for the old school of thought that says everything works out all right in the end. “And if it’s not all right,” the characters remind us, “then it’s not the end.”

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