The sequel to the sleeper hit The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is proof positive that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. With the exception of a few awesome parties and one unforgettable dance routine, not much has changed from the original. Even the arrival of Richard Gere (and one hotel patron’s hilarous reaction)…
The original bunch (sans one or two) is back to tough it out at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. They’ve settled into their lives and are making their way with small jobs that pay just enough to help them get by. The hotel is limping along, but it’s doing just enough for the ever optimistic Sonny (Dev Patel) to start working on an expansion plan.
With the help of Muriel (Maggie Smith), he sets out to make that dream a reality. But ambition and jealousy get the best of him, and soon Sonny’s ‘sunny’ outlook takes a turn. To further complicate matters, Sonny and his fiance Sunaina (Tina Desai) are planning a wedding. True to form (and much like the original), it takes setbacks with the hotel and its remarkable roster of residents, to help bring Sonny and everything around him back to center.
Visually, the film does not disappoint. Director John Madden comfortably nestles the actors in the ‘feeling’ of India. Instead of showing us tourist traps and stereotypically acceptable sights in the country… we’re plunged into bazaars, tiny little mechanic shops, and neighborhoods comprised completely of members of a single family. The actors move ‘with’ the scenery, instead of feeling plunked down in the middle of it.
Cinematographer Ben Smithard immerses us in those fragrant surroundings by highlighting bright colors and contrasts in the flowers, food, and clothing that personify the textured tapestry that is India.
As a story, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel works because it maintains the mantra that life is too short to sweat the petty stuff. The cast behaves and reacts with a grounded reality that comes with age, and quite possibly, wisdom. Potential drama and conflict regarding love, loss, and sex are handled with a brutally honest (and sometimes dismissive) nature, that is noticeably absent in most modern cinema. These issues don’t feel shoehorned into an otherwise lighthearted script because they’re never treated with much weight to begin with. Even the restrained and stereotypically British attraction between Evelyn (Judi Dench) and Douglas (Bill Nighy) is properly criticized and resolved before it begins to get on the audience’s nerves.
Despite obvious efforts to wrap the film into a neat, cheesy little bow… the audience ends up rooting for it. That might be because in the film (as in life) there are no such absolutes as good and evil. The movie goes beyond suggesting, and moves to insisting that as we age, the things we vex about are less important because they become more detrimental to our quality of life. It somehow manages to sidestep being preachy, as it urges us to recognize that life is too short to get caught up in conflict and be miserable. Because – as one character states – there is no time like the present… and there is no present like the time.