Cinema Reviews

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel Review


The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – the title of John Madden’s sequel to his 2011 surprise success is obviously intended as a pun, both inside and outside the world of the film. It is impossible not to wonder, however, if the title also acknowledges the fact that sequels – a few notable exceptions aside – usually struggle in vain to live up to the expectations set by their predecessors. The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel isn’t one of the exceptions but it is far from being a waste of time.

The film picks up eight months after the prequel left off, with Sonny (Dev Patel) pursuing big dreams of expansion supported by Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith), now his hotel manager. Hoping to open a Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, the two of them have travelled to the US to secure the necessary funding. The witty, bantering dialogue of Ol Parker’s script and Patel’s and Smith’s flawless delivery make the first couple of minutes a delight to watch. If we have learned anything from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, however, it is that nothing in life ever goes quite smoothly. Sonny soon ties himself up in rhetoric knots and so he and Muriel end up not quite securing the funding. They head back to India in the knowledge that they will be sent an undercover hotel inspector to review their first hotel with funding for the second depending on the inspector’s report. With Sonny’s wedding to his fiancée Sunaina (Tina Desai) approaching, new additions to the original set of characters aren’t long in coming. These include Guy (Richard Gere), instantly suspected of being the dreaded American hotel inspector who also has an obvious romantic interest in Mrs Kapoor, Sonny’s mother (Lillete Dubey). Worried about the report Guy is going to carry back to his employers, Sonny goes out of his way to make the man’s stay as comfortable as possible at the expense of the hotel’s other new guest Lavinia (Tamsin Greig) who seems a little too young to be one of the clientele. As the remaining characters, including Doug (Bill Nighy) and Evelyn (Judy Dench), struggle with complications to their own lives and budding relationships, The Second Best Exotic Marigold hotel feels a lot like the second and third acts to the first film: full of conflicts followed by neat resolutions.

Most of the performances are a delight. Dev Patel once again manages to hold his own next to British acting heavyweights Dames Judy Dench and Maggie Smith. As with the first film, particular credit is due to Bill Nighy whose beautiful, understated representation of Doug makes a refreshing change to the way he usually portrays his characters. Frankly, neither the cast, nor the film need the addition of Hollywood darling Richard Gere. In fact, the part of Guy is so clearly written for Gere that everything he says and does recalls the various Romcoms audiences will have seen him in, which basically means he adds very little and certainly nothing the others couldn’t have accomplished on their own. Which beckons the question why the sequel to a successful and star-studded British film needs to be Hollywoodised by adding anyone, let alone Gere. It seems as if everything comes down to US approval: Sonny and Muriel need US funding just as much as most films struggle to gain an international (read US) following. More’s the pity.

Thomas Newman’s soundtrack and Ben Smithard’s cinematography are first-rate. The music skilfully enhances the general impact of the overall production and adds a lot to the film’s feel-good experience. So does the camerawork. Although perhaps less so than in the first film, the particular beauty of India continues to come across.

However, the interaction of the English characters with the world outside the hotel is significantly limited and there is a sense of Imperialism that wasn’t as noticeable in the prequel, although it was present there too: the (first) Best Exotic Marigold hotel only managed to get off the ground after Muriel intervened and reassured the investor that someone sensible and British would assist in the running of it. Yet, while in the prequel both sets of characters – the English expatriates and their Indian hosts – gained from the experience of being lumped in together, the sequel feels as if Sonny in particular is so busy getting the approval of white men that he not only neglects the woman he loves but also forgets that, actually, people could learn a lot from him too. His unshakeable, positive outlook on life, his firm belief in the idea that all will end well and if it isn’t good, it isn’t the end, and his excessive enthusiasm now veer towards buffoonery. If Patel wasn’t such a gifted and charming actor, the clumsy and clichéd behaviourisms of the character would have a seriously negative impact on the film, even without the imbalance between Britain and India being exacerbated by the addition of the inevitable Americans.

With a script written to showcase the actors rather than to deliver an original storyline, predictability is another of the film’s shortcomings. Except for a rather delightful double bluff towards the end and a clever hint involving the correct (that is British, not American!) way of making a cup of tea, the script’s twists are so thinly veiled as to be see-through.

Any of this far from means that The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel isn’t worth watching or that it isn’t entertaining. Most of the characters are just as endearing as they were the first time around, including Penelope Wilton’s Jean who returns, as unpleasant as ever. The film succeeds very much through the superiority of the original cast, notably Patel, Nighy, Dench and Smith, their performances enhanced by a script that affords if not a great plot, then at least some seriously good laughs and more than one memorable line. Second Best it may be, but especially lovers of the first film should find it almost impossible not to love this Exotic Marigold Hotel in spite of its flaws.

Anne Korn

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