Sequels can be chancy affairs, more liable to sink than swim, but The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel keeps its head above water. Created as a follow-up to the charming 2012 film, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, it is an enjoyable addition to the story of quirky British seniors spending their golden years in India.
All the loveably eccentric characters from the first film are back and facing their individual struggles with quintessential English snark. Hotel co-managers Sonny (Dev Patel) and Muriel (Maggie Smith) are applying for financial backing to start a second hotel. The romance of Evelyn (Judi Dench) and Douglas (Bill Nighy) is struggling to get off the ground, Norman (Ronald Pickup) may have accidentally taken out a hit on his girlfriend, and Madge (Celia Imrie) is vacillating between two prospective rich husbands. Meanwhile, newcomers Lavinia (Tamsin Greig) and Guy (Richard Gere) gamely struggle to cope with the absurdities of the small community.
The trouble with this film is also its strength. With so many likeable characters, it was inevitable there wouldn’t be enough time to develop each plot thread as it deserves. The one storyline that is developed fully, that of the excitable hotel manager Sonny, is ironically the one the film really could have benefited by skimming over. While actor Dev Patel does his best with what he’s given, Sonny’s histrionics border on painfully awkward at times, which is particularly noticeable when contrasted with the sly, self-effacing humour with which his guests confront their troubles.
That said, there was a great deal to love about this film. It’s worth seeing for the cast if nothing else. The British actors bring compassion and humanity to their characters, even when the script takes a turn for the silly or bizarre. Special mention should go to Maggie Smith’s performance as the crusty, straight-talking Muriel and Celia Imrie’s ability to infuse grace and presence into Madge’s otherwise predictable storyline. Richard Gere seems somewhat lost amidst this plethora of talent, but remains very charismatic and watchable.
Credit should also go to the screenwriter, Ol Parker (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel). The questions the film poses about when we stop living life (answer: the minute they nail the coffin shut) and what to do with the time we have left could be ham-fisted clichés in the wrong hands. Instead, Parker deftly navigates the issue without ever once resorting to trite platitudes. He balances the inevitability of death with the importance of acknowledging that we’re not dead yet.
Finally, it would be impossible to review this movie without mentioning the cinematography by Ben Smithard (My Week with Marilyn). Like its predecessor, this film was shot on location in the Indian state of Rajasthan and makes no apologies for it. Nor should it have to; director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) clearly knows how to use the scenery without turning it into a thinly disguised tourism ad. The colour and energy of the surroundings aptly reflects the characters’ mandate to be part of the world instead of watching it pass them by.
To truly appreciate The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, it’s strongly recommended to see the first movie beforehand. Without it you’ll be left floundering to understand the established characters, even as new ones are introduced to the mix. However, with that knowledge under your belt, it’s a pleasant outing that will have you laughing out loud in places and blinking back tears in others. A satisfying sequel, well worth the price of admission.
THE REEL SCORE: 6/10