April 1, 2023

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2015, dir. John Madden)

Contrary to the condescension of some of the reviews it received it is entirely possible and really quite safe to enjoy The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel without having to leave all your finer sensibilities and critical faculties idling.

If you saw the first installment your expectations of John Madden’s sequel will be reasonable, and some viewers may find that the material here even has the slight edge. It’s still about British seniors seeking a retirement haven in India, and Madden’s affection for his characters and cast is still genuine. Ours is, too. When Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, and Penelope Wilton show up together in a movie, even a wobbly follow-up such as The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, we’d be wise just to sit back and relish the opportunity. The seniors at the Marigold in Jaipur are spreading their wings. Evelyn (Dench) becomes a textiles buyer. Douglas  (Nighy) is a charming if inept tour guide who’s trying to seduce Evelyn since his wife, Jean (Wilton), has left him. Muriel (Smith) has agreed to co-manage the hotel with dithery dynamo Sonny (Dev Patel), who wants to expand now that he’s about to marry his fiancee (Tina Desai)—a plan that prompts Muriel and Sonny to make a quick trip to the U.S. to pitch a financing package to an investor (David Strathairn), who sends an inspector (Richard Gere) to India to spy on the operation. The superb cast—which also includes Ronald Pickup, Celia Imrie, Lillete Dubey and others—constantly proves the adage that for good actors there are no small parts: they simply are not capable of phoning it in, and characteristically inform the busy, sometimes glancing, script with the flesh of specific humanity. Patel’s frenetic performance might perhaps have used a bit of directorial shaping and calibration, but his essential charm remains intact.  Gere’s is a modest but svelte and appealing turn, and Straitharn’s cameo, sharply etched, is up to his usual high standard of idiosyncratic performances.

Yes, there are a few forced plot contrivances and too-cute drolleries, and senior romance is pretty thick on the ground, but the film is never embarrassing—it is frequently enjoyable and has an undeniable warmth. The colors are giddy, and Thomas Newman’s score is not redundant to his previous outing but rather builds upon and transcends it: interwoven with traditional instrumentations and Bollywood bounce, his music makes it difficult not to leap up and join the dance sequences.

If you’re inclined to watch it (or watch it again) don’t be deterred by a few tepid reviews. The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a pleasing entertainment and it has—in the hands of some of our greatest actors—moments you will savor, remember, and reconsider. It’s imaginable that we could have a Third Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and, if the creative team is intact and the wonderful cast willing, that would be just fine.

– Hadley Hury


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