Watched May 16, 2012
The film has a lot of structural problems... Major characters disappear for uncomfortably long lengths of time, and because there are so many strong characters vying for screen time, we never get to explore any one person nearly as much as I would have liked.
However, every performance is utterly fantastic, and despite the issues with pacing and plotting and whatnot, the performances more than carry the film. Judi Dench is a revelation as a recently-widowed elderly woman. Maggie Smith is an utter delight as a racist woman undergoing surgery in a frighteningly unfamiliar country. Bill Nighy is heartbreaking as an old man trapped in a failed marriage, just as Penelope Wilton is deliciously frustrating as his controlling wife. Dev Patel's Sonny provides fantastic comic relief. Olivia Imrie is woefully underused as a single woman, while Ronald Pickup's horny old man is used just the right amount. And finally: Tom Wilkinson's character is so heartbreaking, so touching, that I simply can't say anything about his arc without spoiling the film.
Ultimately, I felt like a lot of the emotions in this movie were exactly what I expected them to be. Our characters confront fear of death. They confront fear of being the last to die (aka, fear of loss). They worry about their marriages falling apart, until they worry about what would happen if they stayed together. They fear the unfamiliar country, and then they fear returning to the world they know.
But the characters who take us through these emotions, and the actors who turned in those performances, more than elevate the movie beyond its expected emotional beats. It's worth a look just for the final shot, even. You'll see.