The first is The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a tale about elders from Great Britain who find themselves encamped for the rest of their days in a once-glorious hotel that a dreamy young Indian has reconfigured as a make-shift retirement home. The story is gentle and profound, the film shot so beautifully it makes your heart stop, and the characters presented are as quirky and loveable as any on screen this year. With star turns by Dame Judy Dench and Maggie Smith and Tom Wilkinson and a curious camera that explores the noisy, crowded environs of Jaipur (down to having some fun with India’s favorite call-centers), this film stayed in my mind for two or three days. My father had already seen it once, enjoyed sharing it with me and was ready to watch it a third time on our second night together.
Instead, we watched Quartet, the first film directed by Dustin Hoffman that also stars the inimitable Maggie Smith, this time as an opera diva forced out of retirement for one last concert. Instead of a retirement home set in an exotic locale, this story is set in a home for retired opera singers and is cast with real musicians and singers who have reached their golden years in real life and who must have been tickled pink to assemble for this film. Based on the play by Ronald Harwood and set at a Downton Abbey-like British estate, the movie is quixotic and real in it’s depiction of the vagaries and indignities of old-age.
Both films treat aging with humor and grace. To watch them with parents that are dealing with their declining years with similar aplomb was a simple summer gift. The first film suggests that we should trust that things will work out in life and the second explores the pure joy experienced by those who pursued their talent and passions – to watch the opera singers music of any kind (a child’s recital, an aging sax player practicing, someone whistling at work) is one of the film’s more clever conceits.
Whether you are spending time with your elders this summer, or just looking for an evening pastime, these two titles will make you smile. (Quartet is slower and less interesting for anyone under 20, but The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a bit slicker and makes for an excellent choice for anyone over 16 who can handle a bit of sexual innuendo).