Judi Dench as Evelyn Greenslade and Bill Nighy as Douglas Ainslie in The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
In 2011, John Madden shattered through Hollywood’s ageist glass ceiling when he managed to score a surprise box-office hit with a film primarily made for and almost-exclusively starring men and women over the age of 60. Now, admittedly, those “men and women” happened to be some of the pre-eminent actors in British history, but nonetheless, they were all well into their Golden years—a far cry from the exacting standards of youthful vitality normally held by the film industry’s casting directors.
The story followed Muriel, Evelyn, and Doug (Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, and Bill Nighy), a group of aging Brits who, upon their retirement, move to Jaipur, India to spend their waning days in the titular hotel. Though advertised by its excitable, youthful host Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel) as a palace of luxury, the hotel is in fact a grimy fixer-upper. However, being a family friendly romp, the friends soon find their place in this quirky setting, leading to romances, personal discoveries, and wacky hi jinx. By the end of the film, Murial and co. are running the hotel themselves, having turned it into an oasis for elderly Western expats looking to “go out” in style. Now, after the smashing financial success of the first installment, these rag-tag rag-timers are back for more with The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
The sequel begins with Murial and Sonny visiting California, where they attempt to secure financing from a large retirement-home chain to buy a second location to expand the Marigold’s reach in Jaipur. The jaded head honcho (David Strathairn) informs the pair that, before he can invest anything, he will be sending an undercover inspector to stop by the Hotel in secret to get the inside scoop on the quality of their service. Sonny and Muriel return to Jaipur on edge whereupon they enter into a surprisingly complex web of competing narrative strands.
Firstly, Sonny is due to be married to his fiancee Sunaina (Tina Desai), but becomes jealous and possessive when she invites his handsome old schoolmate Kushal (Shazad Latif) to help choreograph their wedding dance. Meanwhile, Douglas attempts to spark up a bonafide romantic relationship with on-and-off beau Evelyn, only to find her pulling away from him in favor of a demanding new job selling fabrics in Mumbai. If these two subplots weren’t enough, we also follow Madge (Celia Imrie), the sophisticate floozy, as she attempts to decide between two rich suitors, as well as tracking hapless charmer Norman (Ronald Pickup) as he accidentally puts a hit out on his wife Carol (Diana Hardcastle) via a conversation with a crooked cab driver. As these trifling com-dramas ramp up in preparation of the big wedding day, a wild card is thrown into the mix with the arrival of dashing American bachelor Guy (Richard Gere). Could he, as Sonny suspects, be the secret inspector dispatched by the investors?
Of course, being the aforementioned family friend romp, this film, much like the original, ends in all the pleasant formerly mentioned ways. Love is found, scenery is chewed, people are wackily mistaken for one another, et, al.—but it’s all done in a neat, cleaver manner more charming than groan-inducing. Indeed, the word “charming” in the Oxford English Dictionary ought to contain a .gif image of Bill Nighy in this movie from now on. He and the rest of these great British thesps were clearly having a ball during filming, and their enthusiasm is highly infectious. Particular praise is due to (as always) Maggie Smith, who imbues her Muriel with a pre-natural wiseness only attainable by highly cultured octogenarians like herself, and to the kinetic Dev Patel, who adds real likability to a character that could otherwise have been outright irritating. In addition, the direction is more than competent and the lush cinematography aptly captures India’s exotic and diverse scenery.
On the whole, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel may be a trifle, but it’s one sweet and filling enough to be worth the empty calories. It’s a rare audience-pleaser that doesn’t have to stoop to scatological lows to garner a laugh from a broad, populist crowd, and it’s always good to see actors in a comedy actually act rather than simply role-playing goofed-up versions of themselves. Indeed, whether over-the-hill or not, these advanced-age performers still know how to put on a jolly good show.
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Now in theaters.
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