Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Run Time: 2 hours 2 minutes, Rated PG
Starring: Maggie Smith, Dev Patel, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup, Diana Hardcastle, Richard Gere, David Strathairn, Tina Desai, Tamsin Greig, Penelope Wilton, Lillete Dubey
Written by Ol Parker (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel)
Directed by John Madden (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Debt, Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Shakespeare in Love)
Death is always looming, always present, in The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel(opening today). It lingers off-screen, just out of sight...a character that we hear several others mention and talk about endlessly, but one that we never get to meet. There is a fine line, the film says, between what we want and what we fear, and like the first film, the inhabitants of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - a once run-down exotic vacation spot for the elderly in the heart of India - again find themselves choosing to live life to its fullest potential despite knowing how the story must ultimately end.
The first Exotic Marigold Hotel was a surprise hit back in 2012 and most every character is back in some way, shape or form. Back too, is the same writer and director pairing who now know and are very familiar with these characters, fitting them all together again like a comfortable pair of worn-out old shoes. It's an unnecessary - and perhaps even an unwanted - sequel, but it's a group of spirited characters that you won't mind spending a few more hours with.
Now a profitable, luxurious landing spot for wealthy elderly people (why die somewhere else, when you can die there?, as elegantly stated by the hotel's owner, Sonny (Dev Patel)), many of the residents from the last film have now grown roots and are calling the place their home. Evelyn (Judi Dench) has taken on a side job buying and selling fabric, and it may launch her career even more than she had anticipated. Douglas (Bill Nighy), now separated from his stuffy wife Jean (Penelope Wilton), gives guided tours around the hotel and neighboring sights, despite needing to have his lines fed to him through an ear piece from a native child villager (you see, old people have trouble remembering stuff). Perennial lady-killer Norman (Ronald Pickup) is still with his new girlfriend Carol (Diana Hardcastle) and the two run a local restaurant bar service. Madge (Celia Imrie), who was once lonely and craving a man, now has two suitors to tend to. And then there is of course, the sharp-tongued old coot Muriel (Maggie Smith), who has invested in the hotel and along with Sonny, plans to expand with a second location.
New to the scene is Lavinia (Tamsin Greig), who seems to be a bit young for the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, but who shacks up there anyways. Then there is the dashingly handsome Guy Chambers (Richard Gere), who arrives with the desire to write his novel, but who ends up falling for Sonny's widowed mother (Lillete Dubey).
Got all that?
By far, the all-star cast of British acting royalty is the best part about this sequel, which was also the best thing about the first. Watching Maggie Smith be a straight-forward curmudgeon just never gets old. They are all very good hear, working with very funny and very clever dialogue from screenwriter Ol Parker. The story bounces around a great deal, juggling time with its ensemble but never neglecting any one of them.
If there was a lead though, it would be Judi Dench. Her relationship with Bill Nighy's Douglas is the heartbeat of the movie. And while Dev Patel's bumbling Sonny never gets annoying, like the first film, his storyline always seems like a less interesting distraction away from the film's strengths: All the old people. Does anyone really care about his efforts to buy a second hotel, his jealousy of a male friend who has swooped in, or even his relationship with his young wife? No, I want Ronald Pickup accidentally putting a hit out on his wife, Celia Imrie ogling at Richard Gere, and Maggie Smith ignoring Judi Dench as she confesses something very profound. The moments spent among the elderly are the best the film has to offer.
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is not a great movie, but it is not bad either, and marginally better than the first. It's rare to see such depth of character given to a romance between two senior citizens. And while many of the other players might be one note, boy do they nail that one note. It's hard not to be inspired watching these people live life, find love and find themselves even in life's twilight. Even though the film's story is full of contrivances, its optimistic messages about life, love, hope and risk-taking couldn't come across as any more authentic.
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