Remember when Slumdog Millionaire was dubbed the feel-good film of the year? Obviously it wasn't: orphans had their eyes gouged out with hot spoons. Well, here comes along another British film set in Mumbai and starring Dev Patel which can make a similar claim.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, like the run-down hotel itself run by manager Sonny (Dev Patel), is held together with optimism and it's-never-too-late charm.
It tells the story of seven mismatched senior citizens who sign-up for a retirement home in Mumbai. The gang are a collection of types: the widow hoping to start a new life (Judi Dench), the retired bloke looking to rediscover the past (Tom Wilkinson), the overbearing wife (Penelope Wilton), the long-suffering husband (Bill Nighy), the feisty woman (Celia Imrie), the feisty man (Ronald Pickup) and the token racist (Maggie Smith). But thankfully their roles become more rounded as we get to know them throughout the film.
Admittedly, Marigold Hotel is a formulaic, fish-out-of-water ensemble whereby each character overcomes their difficulties against a colourful, cultural backdrop. But the sheer likeability of the cast brings freshness to the formula and - whilst a neat happy ending was always a safe bet - there is the odd twist and turn along the way to keep the audience engaged.
Director John Madden handles the ensemble reasonably well. Having directed Shakespeare in Love, Madden is comfortable with a lengthy cast list. As such, each character is allowed their share of screen-time to overcome their issues and bag a few stand-out moments for the trailer. The problems of an ensemble are not entirely absent (Pickup and Imrie are reduced to comic relief, whilst the running time is a little long) but generally Madden has interwoven each story nicely.
It is hard to pick a stand-out from such an accomplished list of veterans. All are a pleasure to watch, whether it be the emotional moments with Dench, Smith's xenophobia or the laugh-out-loud antics of Pickup's flirting. Ironically, the stand-out might actually be Dev Patel who holds his own against the A-list leads. Patel's Sonny is a sure-fire scene-stealer, brimming with optimistic sales-speak and a bang-on Mumbai accent. As in Slumdog, he is playing the underdog and naturally wins over the audience as he fights for both his love and his fledgling dream of owning the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Patel has come a long way since Skins. Here's hoping there are more roles like this for him in the future.
Cynics will snigger at the rushed resolutions (the old racist lady happens to be a pretty nifty accountant!) but Marigold Hotel is not made for cynics, just as last week's The Woman in Black was not made for thinkers. This is made for any February cinema-goer fed up with winter and ready for the adventures of summer. It is a bright, uplifting dramedy which delivers the escapism that we all need at this time of year.
And it is the feel-good film of the year.