A vehicle for the skills of a host of accomplished Brit actors, this movie starts out swift and charming, as we watch our leads end up in India at a run-down retirement hotel that looked a helluva lot better in the brocuhure. Judi Dench is recently widowed; Tom Wilkinson, fed up, abruptly resigns his judgeship; Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton have had to scale down their retirement plans after an investment in their daughter’s internet company went bad; Maggie Smith needs a hip replacement and can get it quicker in India; and Celia imrie and Ronald Pickup are fighting aging and simply along for the ride. Directed ably by John Madden (Shakespeare in Love), the set up is deft and the upcoming culture clash looks to be fun. Okay. Love Actually for old people, right?
Instead, the film takes itself way too seriously. The Nighy-Wilton union is crumbling. Dench is regretful of her long-term marriage. Wilkinson has a deeper secret underlying his removal to India. Smith’s tale is even more woeful. What seeemed a light comedy turns into a morose trek. Even the comic relief (Slumdog Millionaire’s Dev Patel, who runs the hotel) has his own crucible – he must stand up to his mother and choose the one he loves (all with the help of some sound Brit advice).
The actors are really all very good, and they are elevating pedestrian material (not a thing happens that you haven’t guessed). The resolutions are absurdly convenient and it ends sickeningly cloying. Unlike Slumdog, the India portrayed here is all sweetness and dazzle, if a little crowded, and the Indian actors are given that child-like nobility that always comes off as condescending.
The last 15 minutes is so rushed in its effort to provide a tidy, happy ending, it feels damn near like the entire endeavor was trying to make a flight.