DIR: John Madden • WRI: Ol Parker • PRO: Graham Broadbent, Peter Czernin • DOP: Ben Smithard • MUS: Thomas Newman • DES: Martin Childs • CAST: Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Richard Gere, Judi Dench
Four years on from the first instalment, the golden-years residents of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and the Beautiful have acclimatised to life in Jaipur, India. We check in on new couple Evelyn (Judi Dench) and Douglas (Bill Nighy), as they manoeuvre the difficult world of dating after decades of marriage to other people. Muriel (Maggie Smith) is keeping pace as the acerbic right-hand woman keeping the hotel management in check. Norman (Ronald Pickup) and Carol (Diana Hardcastle) are finding out that leaving behind the Lothario lifestyle isn’t as easy as you might think, and Madge (Celia Imrie) is trying to choose between two suitors in her own particular Blanche DuBois way. Meanwhile, the exuberant owner of the hotel, Sonny (Dev Patel), dreams of expansion as he simultaneously plans his wedding to the woman of his dreams Sunaina (Tina Desai), but a proposed partnership with a big hotel chain brings undercover hotel inspectors who might derail everything. New arrivals Guy (Richard Gere) and Lavinia (Tamsin Greig) shake things up for the residents, as complications occur in everyone’s dream of the simple life in India.
There is plenty to like about The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – the cast might as well be old friends, so comfortable are they (and us) with their position onscreen; the colours and sounds of Jaipur are simply gorgeous; the script manages a few laughs here and there; and there’s even a new love story to keep us involved. But somehow it falls a little flat – perhaps behind all the colour there’s just too much awareness of how much this resembles an escapist, post-colonial dream of a passive India. There is even a Bollywood dance number – which Patel and Desai perform with gusto, and what looks like genuine enjoyment, but it still has an undercurrent of performative traditionalism, especially since the guests of honour at a family wedding are unaccountably a group of English and American old folks. Fans of the original might enjoy reacquainting themselves with the characters, checking in on how they have conquered Jaipur and all of its vagaries, but there isn’t a lot here to pull in converts. The ending of the first film left suggestions of happiness to come, whether through Sonny’s marriage, Evelyn and Douglas’s fledgling romance, or Muriel’s shedding of her racist beginnings and embracing of Indian culture. This sequel, then, has an air of wish-fulfilment – giving the audience an answer to all of those lovely hints of happy endings…but giving an audience what they want is rarely a recipe for a great movie, and the film stumbles along wearily trying to tell sub-plot after sub-plot while never really finding an actual narrative arc.
While generally harmless, and at times enjoyable enough in terms of the acting, this sequel was a bit unnecessary and just raises more questions about the achievable life of enlightenment it purports to depict. While it’s never exactly a chore to spend a couple of hours in the company of some of the finest actors to ever grace the silver screen, the film lacks the verve of the original in a way that’s quite hard to get on board with. Perhaps it’s time to leave these characters to their golden years without disturbance.
PG (See IFCO for details)
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is released 27th February 2015