A film review by Craig J. Koban March 13, 2015


2015, PG-13, 120 mins.


Dev Patel as Sonny  /  Richard Gere as Guy  /  Maggie Smith as Muriel  /  Bill Nighy as Douglas  /  Judi Dench as Evelyn  /  Tina Desai as Sunaina  /  Ronald Pickup as Norman  /  Diana Hardcastle as Carole

Directed by John Madden  /  Written by Ol Parker

THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL is, without a shadow of a doubt, the second best film about an exotic Marigold Hotel that I’ve ever seen. 

Obvious sarcasm aside, this might be one of the more unnecessary sequels to emerge in many a moon.  2011’s THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL was essentially comfort food as far as dramas go, but it sure was delectably charming comfort food.  That John Madden directed film concerned the respective plights of multiple UK retirees that retreated away from their problems to an India based hotel, where they hope to spend what few remaining years they have left.  It opened opposite of THE AVENGERS in a shrewd bit of counter programming and, yes, it may have been an demographic-placating audience pleasure that was numbingly formulaic, but the celebrated cast – all at the top of their games – helped elevate otherwise middling material presented within.  They made the film’s artificially constructed feel-good sentimentality go down a lot more agreeably. 

I experienced déjà vu like sensations as I walked out of THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL, mostly because a majority of the same cast is back for round two, along with director Madden.  Furthermore, and much like the first entry, this sequel gets by considerably on the limitless strengths of its elderly cast (as well as a few new notable addictions) that helps one overcome the more conspicuous scripting flaws.  Watching this cast – comprised of Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Ronald Pickup, Celia Imrie, and Diana Hardcastle – remains a sublime delight.  I think that, deep down, they fully understand the inherent redundancy of the sequel that they populate, but even when narrative and thematic shortcomings rear their ugly heads this cast keeps everything wonderfully afloat.  The plot labors here, to be sure, but the performances always ring authentically. 



Complimenting the cast of screen veterans is the wonderful Dev Patel, who returns again to play Sonny, the hotel’s endlessly chirpy, stubbornly proud, and perhaps overly enthusiastic owner.  As the new film opens he and his wonderfully sarcastic partner Muriel (Maggie Smith, generating huge laughs with the most inconsequential of throwaway lines) have made a pilgrimage to San Diego in hopes of convincing a well-off business man (David Strathairn) to invest in what they hope will be a second Marigold Hotel.  Sonny endlessly dreams of expansion, but needs the necessary capital to realize his dreams.  The meeting ends on somewhat vague terms, as Strathairn closes it by promising that he’ll send an undercover representative to check out Sonny’s existing hotel and determine whether investing in another one would be a viable option. 

Sonny and Muriel return back home to India, desperately trying to prepare for the American rep, all while Sonny continues to labor over his wedding plans with his future bride (Tina Desai).  Unfortunately for her, Sonny seems completely preoccupied with trying to deduce which new hotel guest is the rep in question.  When would-be American novelist Guy shows up (series newcomer Richard Gere) Sonny immediately suspects him, but a series of curveballs are thrown that potentially lead to him not being the mole.  Then there’s another new arrival (Tamsin Grieg) that may or may not be the real inspector.  Complications really ensue when Guy begins to take a liking to Sonny’s stern and introverted mother (Lillete Dubey).  While this is occurring, Evelyn and Douglas (Dench and Nighy) – hotel regulars – are trying to sort through their feelings for one another while Norman and Carole (Pickup and Hardcastle) deal with mutual doubts regarding their fidelity. 

There’s a lot going on in THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL.  An awful lot.  The film arguably has too many characters, too many story arcs, and perhaps is way, way too long for its own good (at a shade over 120 minutes, it seems to wear out its welcome about 90-plus minutes in).  Some story threads seem perplexingly like they belong in a whole other screwball farce altogether, like an inexplicable – and thankfully short lived – story thread involving Norman thinking that he’s put a hit on his wife by accidentally paying of a cabbie to do so (er…whaaaat?!).  The overall plot has twists and turns that are about as novel and revitalizing as something one would find on daytime soap operas, leaving a sense of innovation in short supply.  There’s next to nothing altogether surprising about any of the story developments presented here: everything mechanically traverses from point a to b and unavoidably to c. 

Yet…this cast is so lovely, spirited, and on-point that it almost doesn’t matter.  Dench and Nighy are subtle perfection together as a couple in their golden years that struggle with whether or not they should be together.  Nighy himself is such a classy charmer on screen – with his sly mannerisms, oftentimes-hilarious body language, and overall mischievous edge – that he can make even the lamest of hooky sentimental scenes ring with truth.  Patel is a nice younger foil, yet again, to his much older cast, bringing a boundless energy, ambitious determination, and childlike vulnerability to his hotel operator facing multiple stresses.  Maggie Smith is the emotional anchor of the entire film, who manages to be effortless uproarious while being bittersweet and poignant at the same time (she gives a heartfelt monologue near the film’s end that’s both reflective and tear-inducing).  Series neophyte Gere is a good addition to the cast that has a sweat and touching arc with Sonny’s mother.  That, and for a man pushing 70 he still has the ridiculously handsome mug of a man forty years his junior. 

THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL, like its antecedent, is also an exquisite looking film, highlighting the natural beauty of Jaipur, India while framing the interior and exterior of the hotel with a painterly eye at times.  The film even joyously culminates with a wonderful Bollywood inspired dance sequences that’s a toe tapping delight.  Yeah, I just wished that this sequel at least attempted to break new ground with its characters and premise; it feels more like a regurgitation of the first film that a true follow-up entry.  Both films, in tandem, are like a glossy and inviting travel brochure offering relaxing pleasures, so on that intended level I will concede that THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL modestly works.  This is not a good sequel; it’s pretty safe and pedestrian and doesn’t try to explore familiar characters and themes in any fresh manner, but in the end I nevertheless found myself enjoying the company of this cast again.  Maybe that was the point all along

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