The first Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – by the rules of Hollywood – should never have been the international box-office hit it ended up being. It’s a film about getting older, resolutely targeted at a demographic ordinarily ignored by Hollywood, but the film’s warmth and undeniable charm nevertheless made it a sizeable success, and now here we are with a sequel that hopes to repeat the same magic formula to produce similar results.
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel will no doubt be greeted with cynicism by many, given its identity as a sequel more or less brought about by the first film’s financial returns, but thankfully the film itself doesn’t hold the same negative feeling. Like its predecessor, this is a film that’s quite happy being exactly what it is, seemingly untouched by the anticipation for its release from those who so enjoyed the first.
After a little geographical misdirection and a stellar Maggie Smith rant to rival anything she’s done on Downton Abbey for a good while, then, we’re back at the titular hotel, finding all of the familiar faces now living, working and by all accounts thriving in the thick of Indian life.
The little microcosm of the hotel is intact from the moment we check back in, with the camaraderie between the characters thoroughly bedded in, and this alone will make the trip back to the Marigold feel like time well spent for most. A large part of the joy of a film like this comes down to seeing these actors on screen together, and it makes the most of what’s left of the novelty factor.
New additions of Richard Gere and Tamsin Greig bring exactly what you’d expect, with Gere especially typecast as the charming outsider who catches the eye of more than one of the hotel’s ladies.
There’s a subtle nod to the expectation for bigger, better and possibly louder things associated with any follow-up with ambitious proprietor Sonny’s desire to expand his empire with a chain, but the build to a final wedding does the job without it feeling forced.
That’s the underlying story that keeps the various threats from veering too far off course – everyone does their thing, but we know they’re all coming back for the party.
And that’s useful, because The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is an ensemble drama through and through. There’s no obvious protagonist, with even Maggie Smith’s Muriel, in many ways the emotional core of this sequel, seemingly wheeled out along with Dev Patel’s Sonny to offer up the laughs before we move on to something else with more narrative substance.
They succeed in delivering those laughs, of course, but its still feels like a bit of a waste when they’re both so good at other moments. That goes particularly for Patel, who feels like a more prominent part of the film through nothing more than the sheer confidence of his performance.
And this lack of focus is a big problem as the film moves along. Where the motto of the first film could be said to have been “it is not yet the end,” here it’s the trailer’s question of “how many new lives can we have?” The film goes about answering this question in every way it can possibly think of, with as many characters as it can squeeze into the running time, but somehow that makes it feel slower as opposed to overly busy.
With characters like Evelyn (Judi Dench) and Douglas (Bill Nighy), there are new things to say and fresh stories to tell but, with others, that’s sadly not the case. Ronald Pickup’s Norman, for example, starts off grappling with a non-farce that’s dropped about 30-minutes later, and other’s plotlines are simply rehashes of ones from the first film. At least Madge (Celia Imrie), while still providing the comedy, is given something a bit different, and slightly more sombre, to do.
Proven by an early monologue about how tea should correctly be made to a room full of Americans, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has little interest in widening its appeal or pandering to an audience it had no idea was there the first time around. The joy of the first film came down to its gentle comfort, its unchallenging niceness, and that thankfully hasn’t gone anywhere during our time away.
So a more appropriate name for it, then, might be The Just As Good Exotic Marigold Hotel, because while it doesn’t do anything groundbreaking or even out of the ordinary, it’s not really meant to. It’s still funny, still frequently charming and still unexpectedly poignant, which, at the end of the day, is perhaps all it needs to be.
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is out in UK cinemas on 27th February
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