Seniors Review Retirement Home Film

Friendship Center Montecito Participants Describe What Was Realistic and What Was Offensive About ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’

Friendship Center critics, clockwise from top left: Ron, Betsy, Richard, and Stella

What happens when two dozen adult day center participants, ages 68-98, come together to critique The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel?

A handful walked out, some fell asleep, and a core group of 10 thoroughly embraced the opportunity to share their ideas on the 2011 film that follows a group of British retirees who travel to India to take up residence at the titular hotel. 

On May 6, Friendship Center Montecito hosted the screening in support of Wise Up on Aging, a statewide initiative sponsored by the California Commission on Aging to encourage the entertainment industry to more authentically represent older adults. Friendship Center’s critics had plenty to say, mostly good and all relevant considering the film’s content and likely intended viewers. 

Here’s what they offered:

Realistic content

  • Difficulties of sorting affairs once a spouse passes away
  • Family “obligation” to be a grandparent only and not pursue your own life
  • Adult children “forgetting we’ve lived much longer than they have and made it out alive”

Less realistic or relatable

  • Portrayal of older adults readily accommodating changes to plans
  • Elders easily traveling on packed buses and tuk-tuks — physical and mental limitations would make “riding on a squished bus absolutely terrible”

Particularly offensive

  • Characters polarized as either grumpy curmudgeons — “How older people are so often portrayed” — or free spirits
  • One character falling out of his chair and the others thinking he’s dead until he coughs — none found this funny

Favorite scenes

  • An elder character revealing he was gay — “You don’t think of grandpas being gay.”
  • Characters “trying to get their groove on” in the dating scene

The post-film discussion produced unique insights. Though the critics found the film entertaining, they all agreed The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was overall unrealistic in its portrayal of older adults. Simply picking up and moving to another country was “too fantastical.”

Granted, 10 people do not make a representative sample, but they did offer some often-overlooked perspectives. Hollywood’s filmmakers would be wise to take these notes as they seek to entertain, accommodate, and monetize the increasing older adult population.

Kathryn Cherkas, MIPH, is Program Manager at Friendship Adult Day Care Center in Montecito. She has a master’s degree in International Public Health focusing on aging and caregiving. Stuart Greenbaum is director of the Wise Up On Aging Initiative to improve the representation of older adults on film and TV. He is also a governor’s appointee to the California Commission on Aging

‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ trailer


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