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During a scene midway through The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Maggie Smith and Judi Dench are chatting from a distance as the festivities involved with a traditional Indian engagement party rage on. Despite the frivolity, Dench’s character, Evelyn, is plagued with doubts. As she vents to Smith’s Muriel, she debates whether or not to take a job that would require lots of travel. Though she loves her work, she’s worried about, though won’t outright admit, to being away from Bill Nighy’s Douglas. After a minute or so of monologuing, Smith turns to her and says, “I’m so sorry. Were you talking to me?”
As much as I respect the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel franchise, this was my overall response to the movie. The first installment was an entertaining and funny look at a group of elderly men and women looking for solace at the ends of the Earth. While the sequel isn't bad, it did prove two things. First, it lived up to its name as Second Best. And two, some movies, despite their allure, do not require sequels.
When we pick up with the old folks of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, they are earning their keep with various jobs — even though they came to India to live the rest of their lives enjoying the fruits of retirement. Douglas is giving tours of historic sites, Madge (Celia Imrie) and Norman (Ronald Pickup) work at a private club, Carol (Diana Hardcastle) allegedly works at a travel agency, Evelyn gets promoted at the company for which she hunts for fabrics, and Muriel manages the hotel with Sonny (Life of Pi’s Dev Patel).
Though parts of the hotel are still under development, it’s fully booked, and Sonny is looking to expand. In the beginning of the film, we see him and Muriel traveling to the States to seek financial backing from a retirement company called Evergreen. Before they make a decision, however, the potential financiers want to send one of their “guys” to investigate the hotel to evaluate the quality of their investment.
Shortly after this meeting, Richard Gere comes into the picture. Although he arrives at the hotel claiming to be a first-time author looking for peace and tranquility to write his book, Sonny convinces himself that he’s the “guy” who has come to inspect the establishment. As such, he disregards all of his other responsibilities — including planning his wedding and the other guests — to ensure this man has a pleasant stay.
Speaking of weddings, Sonny has his own troubles outside of work to worry about. As he attempts to expand his hotel, he feels emasculated by his frenemy Kushal. Not only does Sonny think he’s moving in on his future wife, but he discovers that he’s encroaching on his business venture by purchasing a prospective expansion location out from under him. Yes, there are a lot of side stories, but they’re easy to follow. The funny thing is that fact works against the film.
Before entering the screening, one of my fellow audience members asked about its duration. When I said just over two hours, he was surprised, though ultimately chalked it up to all the individual story lines that needed beginning, middle and ending motions. With the exception of one or two, however, the plots aren’t all that interesting. We only really get a distant view of all these interweaving character developments without becoming too engrossed. Think of it as a more enjoyable and better acted soap opera. Evelyn and Douglas take most of our attention, as they are clearly in love with one another but, for various reasons, are finding it difficult to express this to each other. But, again, the film attempts to give each side story their dues, which is difficult given how many there are and the allotted time they have to tell them.
Although the script has a lot of humor, it’s obvious. The characters themselves are adorably cheery, but too many jokes poke fun at the fact that these people are over the hill. When Sonny is pitching the hotel expansion to Evergreen, he stresses the importance of taking roll call in the morning (“to ensure that no one has died in the night”). The first few variations on this were cute, but the remaining five were expected and lazy. The trajectory of the story followed the same unfortunate course. While the premise of the sequel slightly interesting, it unfolded in an obvious way. If you could even consider this movie as having twists, you could spot them coming right from the start.
In the end, it’s a cute story. The franchise’s elderly audience will no doubt appreciate the film’s lightheartedness and themes of finding new vitality towards the end of one’s life. However, the last thing I want to do is visit the Third Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, if that expansion ever happens.