Despite the fact that all the characters’ stories were nicely tied up in bow by the end of “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” “Shakespeare in Love” director John Madden has decided to return to the helm to treat viewers to the continuing adventures of the residents in The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
In this installment, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful is full up and Sonny (Dev Patel, “The Last Airbender”) is looking to expand his venture worldwide. On top of that he is also getting married to the girl of his dreams Sunaina (Tina Desai). The two loves of his life — his hotel and his wife — are in direct competition with each other, both vying for his attention and pushing Sonny to the limit. But which one will win out?
Love seems to be the common thread throughout this film as the hotel’s inhabitants also have various love dilemmas to work out. Will Evelyn (Judi Dench, “Philomena”) and Douglas (Bill Nighy, “I, Frankenstein”) ever admit their true feelings for each other? And will Madge (Celia Imrie) ever make her mind up about which one of her rich suitors she wants to build a life with?
The only person currently not having some sort of love dilemma is Maggie Smiths’ character — newly appointed co-manager Muriel. Smith’s Michael Caine impression does slightly grate, however, her characters’ no-nonsense, sharp-shooting responses bring the only moments of true comedy. A nice dynamic ensues between Muriel and Evelyn of friendly put-downs reminiscent of Smith’s Dowager and Penelope Wilton’s Isobel Crawley in “Downton Abbey.”
One of the real indulgences of this film lies in the plethora of Academy Award winners and nominees it’s packed with. Many of them can be considered British national treasures and spending time again with their characters in The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel feels a bit like hanging out with a bunch of mates. Unfortunately, the entrance of silver fox Richard Gere’s character Guy brings the show back down to Earth, breaking the familial camaraderie; reminding that you are watching a film that is trying to make itself palatable to the American audiences.
Yet, despite all the respect much of the cast of the film possesses (and rightfully deserves), they’re not enough to carry it for all 122 minutes of air-time. The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has a high level of self-awareness which gives it the over-the-top feel of being at the theater. It’s also full of contrived story lines and suffers from predictable outcomes along the way, such as Evelyn getting hired to run the sourcing for a fashion business in her 70s and Guy conveniently falling in love with Sonny’s mum (Lillete Dubey) at first sight.
And while the movie may be jam packed with comfortable characters (maybe a few too many as there are too many stories to follow) it is the rich, velvety character of India herself that is the best character of all. She is most definitely the star of this show. The lights, the colors, the culture . . . this film has clearly been made by someone who is in love with the country and thanks to the fine work of cinematographer Ben Smithard, all her beauty is served on a platter for audiences to enjoy.
Aside from that, though, there’s not much else to turn your head around for. The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel may manage — regardless of all its many thematic failings — to maintain its good-naturedness and uplifting message to those in their golden years that it’s never too late to start a new chapter in their lives, but one can’t help but wish Sonny hadn’t tried to expand and certainly hopes that he will not be branching out for a third hotel.