Arts & Culture · Film & Television

Movie Review: “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” Lives Up to Its Name—Unfortunately


I can’t help it. I feel as though it was a cheap shot, writing the title above for this review. But, really, knowing that sequels rarely, if ever, live up to the original, why would a production studio risk calling a movie “The Second Best” anything?

Four years ago, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was made for a paltry $10 million budget. To give you a sense of how that stacks up against more mainstream movies, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides spent more than that for every five minutes of screen time.

To say that The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was a surprise hit is an understatement. It had no bankable stars, per se, but boasted a “who’s who” cast of mature British actors. It was grudgingly praised by critics (many admitted that the formulaic plot was part of the fun) and very well received by audiences. And, despite the odds, it grossed nearly $140 million.

With a return on investment like that, a sequel was inevitable.

The new movie takes place several months after we left our friends at the “home for the elderly so wonderful that they will simply refuse to die.” The first few scenes are a bit of a departure, though. Hotelier Sonny (the endearing Dev Patel) and his mentor/manager, Muriel (the inimitable Maggie Smith) are cruising down a California highway, looking for backers in order to expand the now-thriving business. Sonny’s effusiveness (and predilection for exaggeration) hasn’t dimmed, but thanks to Muriel’s voice of reason, the investors agree to consider the proposal. They will send an undercover agent to inspect the operation before making their decision.

And here we have Unnecessary Plot Contrivance No. 1. (As you may have guessed, there will be more.)

Back in Jaipur, we’re happy to reacquaint ourselves with most of the characters from the first movie. Late-in-life lovers Norman (Ronald Pickup) and Carol (Diana Hardcastle) are snugly cohabitating. Femme fatale Madge (Celia Imrie) divides her time between two different maharajas. And, surprisingly, Evelyn (Judi Dench) and Douglas (Bill Nighy) are still awkwardly flirting, each too shy to take the next step or make a definitive move. All of the hotel’s guests have settled in and found employment of some kind. Meanwhile, under the majestic gaze of his mother, “Mama G” (Lillete Dubey), Sonny and his fiancée, Sunaina (Tina Desae), are engaged in preparations for their wedding. Even the mean-spirited Jean (Penelope Wilton), soon to be ex-wife of Douglas, returns to add her own unique sourness to the proceedings.

One of the really enjoyable aspects of the first film was its languid pace. Despite the colorful locale, the pensioners moved slowly; they took their time adjusting to India and to each other—whether writing emails home or teaching local children how to play cricket. We were able to experience each character’s inner life as well as the exotic setting. The new movie moves faster, and much of the sweetness is lost in translation. Too many subplots surface, and too many of them, I’m sorry to report, feel as if they’ve been reheated from a sitcom.

There’s the case of mistaken inspector identity related to the investors already mentioned. A handsome American arrives in the guise of Richard Gere (“Lord help my ovaries,” mutters Madge), and Sonny, assuming he’s there to inspect the hotel, fawns over him— to the detriment of another guest (Tamsin Greig). It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in film theory to figure out who the real inspector is. (If you still can’t figure it out, I suggest you watch hotelier John Cleese in 1975’s Fawlty Towers, season 1, episode 4.)

One of the sillier (and again, utterly unnecessary) plot twists involves former playboy Norman. He has just turned down the advances of a comely matron and complains to his taxi driver that in some ways life would be better without his commitment to Carol. He gives the driver a generous tip and goes home. The next day, Carol is almost hit by a taxi and Norman realizes that he may have unwittingly put a hit out on his girlfriend. This results in several not-very-funny scenes of Norman trying to protect Carol from taxi driver assassins. Happily, this story resolves itself quickly (although not quickly enough).

A longer, and even more tedious, subplot revolves around Sonny’s jealousy of an old family friend, one Kushal (Shazad Latif), handsome, successful and available to help Sunaina rehearse her wedding dance while Sonny is too busy kowtowing to Richard Gere. Add to this the fact that Kushal is also shopping for a hotel (and appears to have won over the actual inspector), and for a moment it looks as if we might end up with a brawl and lose our promised happy ending.

But no, as Sonny reminded us in the first film, “Everything will be all right in the end. So if it is not all right, it is not yet the end.”

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  • Susanna Gaertner March 30, 2015 at 2:45 pm

    After reading so many negative reviews I am delighted to read this one, which reveals the flaws but also the still and forever enjoyable energy of this franchise (will there be a third Marigold hotel?).
    Thanks, Alexandra, for this astute review!