When I first read that Judi Dench and Maggie Smith were in a movie about pensioners going to India I started to worry. Then a couple of discerning friends saw The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and came home raving.
Still, I needed to know how the film portrayed older people. You know, people like us? Would we want to be them? What I meant was, would you call the characters adorable (ick) or attractive (yay). Were they getting a little daft?
Were they airbrushed and stretched to the max? Or had they stopped obsessing about their necks?
Hollywood is not known for being respectful, let alone real, about older people. It’s like movie makers want to disassociate themselves with getting old. Like, they couldn’t possibly relate. So every time movie characters are said to be of a certain age, I expect to squirm.
I want them to be romantically inclined but not desperately randy. I don’t want them to all be Senior Olympians but I don’t want them to all need a hand to cross the street. And please don’t let them be timid. Or terribly cranky.
I don’t want them to wear rubber shoes and granny panties. I want them to be hip and wise, not petted and pathetic. I want to laugh with them, not at them.
It’s all about PR. You don’t want people in your same time zone making aging look bad.
Shortly into Marigold my friend whispered, “I like that they have their own faces.” The actors, in their 60s and 70s, have been around for a long time. As have their faces and bodies. You can hope that younger people might look at those creases and gray hair on the big screen and get the idea that this is what naturally happens in the normal life cycle. Not just to their grandparents but to fine and famous actors. And that’s okay.
Then you have the Marigold characters, people who’ve been disappointed in life and facing some scary unknown, but are trying to cope. Or as Judi Dench’s Evelyn says, to not just cope, but thrive.
Another good line: “If everything works out in the end and things haven’t worked out, it must not be the end.” At least it trumps, “Life is short and then you die.”
Some call it The Big Chill for Geezers but what’s wrong with that? I’d love to have those people over for a house party.
After I turned off my ageist radar I relaxed with the story. I was particularly struck by how kind some of the characters were. Wouldn’t it be nice if you became more compassionate the longer you lived on the planet?
The big challenge in getting older, of course, is not to panic, which isn’t easy because there are a lot of things that can go wrong. But a lot that can go right, too, even without proper planning.
If the retirement savings go to hell and the pension goes bust and they kill Social Security maybe we could move to a run-down palace in Jaipur where the locals seem to like Americans. And, I might add, where the fashion is far from fuddy-duddy. Those long scarves and dresses over pants are rather flattering on the mature body. And seem just made for hopping on a motorcycle.