The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

As a welcome encore, this sequel continues to draw us in largely due to the incredible chemistry of its ensemble cast.

For all those who loved the first film, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a welcome encore with a few surprises from the creators. With the entire cast returning, albeit with a few nifty additions, this time it’s about second chances and why the journey matters more than the destination.

The downsides of aging are inevitable but it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. We got that message from the first film – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Going back to Jaipur for this sequel, we find that our lovable British pensioners are thriving, happy with their retirement home and carrying out odd jobs to keep themselves active. Douglas (Bill Nighy) is now the local tour guide who knows as much about the city as his tourists, while Evelyn (Judi Dench) has a new interest in Indian fabrics. Their unconsummated infatuation is stretched even further in this film. Celia (Madge Hardcastle) is a man-eater on the prowl, while Norman (Ronald Pickup) is open to promiscuity. As Muriel, Maggi Smith takes over the film’s narrative duties from Dench while also assisting Sonny (Dev Patel) with the upkeep of the hotel. Meanwhile, the hotel is doing well and Sonny is looking to expand but continues to be a naïve entrepreneur. His foolhardy decisions don’t sit well with fiancé Sunaina (Tina Desai) even as their marriage preparations are in order. In the midst of all the commotion, in walks Guy Chambers (Richard Gere) and sweeps everyone off their feet (including members of the audience). As the only American guest, Guy appears to be working on his first novel but Muriel’s observation reveals that he may not be who he says he is. Even worse is the case of mistaken identity that could easily undermine the success of the titular hotel.

Returning screenwriter Ol Parker and director John Madden riddles the story with the bitter truth of aging while using every opportunity to bring back the warmth and charm of the first film. And just like the first film, each character is either tasked with making us laugh or reflect on why age is just a number. British actor Patel is at the forefront of the gags with a beefed up Indian accent and equipped with self-composed axioms that are both ridiculous and hysterical. It works in his favour as a comedian but veers off on a tangent during some of the more dramatic subplots involving his fiancé. But just when you think the story has reached a saturated lull, it picks up and then hurtles towards a bombastic, ala Bollywood styled Dhinchak conclusion.

Comic timing, witty punctuations and the incredible chemistry of its ensemble cast more than makes up for occasional periods of hackneyed melodrama. Nighy and Gere will charm your socks off while Dench and Smith will strong-arm you into believing that younger and prettier is no match for older and wiser. More than anything, Parker’s story reiterates that old age is not about waiting for twilight but in making every moment count before finally ‘checking out’. And as with age, ‘second best’ can only mean a perceived frame of belief.

Rating: ★★★½☆

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.