With its cast of acclaimed British thespians, exotic locales, and heartwarming fish-out-of-water story about new beginnings, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was a welcome alternative to the big budget summer blockbusters of 2012. It wasn’t a surprise then when the film became a word-of-mouth phenomenon—especially among older audiences. Naturally, when a movie scores this well with an under-served demo, a sequel was inevitable. With a title that all but guarantees it a plethora of “truth in advertising” awards, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel doesn’t do itself any favors. But what it lacks in novelty, this sequel more than makes up in charm.
Set about a year after the events of the first film, The Second Best Marigold Hotel is structured around the impending wedding of Sonny (Dev Patel), the young proprietor from the first film, to his fiancée Sunaina (Tina Desai). But instead of his marriage, Sonny is more focused on trying to expand his retirement home business to a second location. This causes a rift between the two, especially when a handsome greaseball named Kushal (Shazad Latif) enters the picture.
Elsewhere, Evelyn (Judi Dench) and Douglas (Bill Nighy) have yet to take their budding relationship to the next level. Things get complicated when Evelyn is offered a brand new opportunity in the silk business that’ll have her travelling outside Jaipur, and again when Doug’s ex Jean (Penelope Wilton) reenters the picture. Elsewhere, the ever flirtatious cougar Madge (Celia Imrie) finds herself torn between two rich suitors while serial polygamists Norman (Ronald Pickup) and Carol (Diana Hardcastle) are struggling with the constraints of monogamy. There’s also the appearance of Guy Chambers (Richard Gere), an American writer who Sonny believes is a hotel inspector in disguise. Guy’s romantic interest in Sonny’s mom (Lillete Dubey) only goes to further Sonny’s paranoia. Watching all the chaos happen from the outside is the ever-crotchety Muriel (Maggie Smith) who ruminates on life while also dishing out zingers to everyone and anyone who crosses her path.
If that sounds like a lot to digest, then you’re not alone. Like many sequels, The Second Best Marigold Hotel, which, like its predecessor, was written by Ol Parker and directed by John Madden, suffers from a bad case of sequelitis; it’s simply padded with subplots that add little to the overall experience. The result is a sequel that feels more like an episodic television mini-series than a natural progression of a story. For one, the subplot concerning Norman and Carol feels piled on for the sake of giving the actors something to do. This goes double for an inane narrative strand in which Norman accidentally puts a hit on Carol. More successful but still unessential is Madge’s struggle to decide between her two rich but equally forgettable suitors. That these two subplots come at the expense of Smith’s screen time is an unforgivable offense, especially considering how little she gets to do this time around.
It’s a good thing then, like its predecessor, this sequel glides by on the talent of its fantastic cast. It’s a delight to watch these accomplished performers play off one another—especially Dench and Smith. The two Dames aren’t on screen together in many scenes this time around but when they are, they make it count. Patel, who is sadly still looking for that post-Slumdog Millionaire breakout role, is a gifted comedian and nails those moments with many of the film’s best lines. He’s still not a very good dancer though. Sonny may be an irritating nitwit but Patel makes him immeasurably likeable. As for Gere, who is still a tad too young to be in a retirement home by my estimation, he makes for a welcome addition to the cast, gifting it with a couple of its strongest moments, particularly towards its conclusion.
Despite its many shortcomings, this second visit to the Indian subcontinent retains many of the first film’s charms—it’s as funny, moving and colorfully shot as its predecessor. To quote one of the characters in the film: “To say that there’s room for improvement would be a monumental understatement. But the fact that you still get by is a testament to the many virtues of the ownership.” That just about describes the film too.
Running time: 122 minutes
Companies: Fox Searchlight
Rating: PG for some language and suggestive comments