The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2015)
Director: John Madden
Screenwriter: Ol Parker
Starring: Dev Patel, Tina Desai, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Judi Dench, Richard Gere, Tamsin Greig, Penelope Wilton
Definitely second best.
Three years ago I completely fell in love with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a rare western film set in Asia that didn’t pander to Orientalism, that didn’t fetishise the natives or portray them as ‘uncivilised’ and-or ‘uneducated’. Instead, it dealt with a fate that awaits most of us: retirement and old age – as well as the associated loneliness and lack of purpose that quite often goes with it. Not to mention the concept of “outsourcing” old age, “like the Costa Brava, but with more elephants”. So, when I heard there was going to be a sequel I was both excited and nervous.
While the first film is narrated by Judi Dench’s character Evelyn Greenslade, the second is told through the eyes of Maggie Smith’s Muriel Donnelly, who is now co-manager of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, trying to keep owner Sonny’s head out of the clouds. Set approximately six months after the end of the first film, and with Sonny’s hotel now full to capacity, the original guests are joined by Richard Gere and Tamsin Greig, neither of whom are who they first appear to be. The main cast is completed by Penelope Wilton who returns as the ever-irritating Jean Ainslie, venturing back to Jaipur only to ask husband Douglas for a divorce before moving on to Mumbai with daughter Laura.
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel focuses less on the older cast members that the first film centred around, and more on Sonny and Sunaina’s upcoming wedding and Sonny’s attempts to buy a second hotel to expand his business – to be appropriately named The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. However, Sonny seems to keep running into the same problem over and over again, a problem named Kush – long time friend of his fiancée Sunaina’s family returning to Jaipur to invest his father’s money in a hotel.
While much of the comedy in the first film came mainly from the culture clash the ex-pats faced, and their attempts to adapt to life in India and integrate into the local community, six months down the line the comedic culture clash has run its course and they have all managed to find their place in Jaipur with them working somewhere in the city. As such, the story becomes much more of a drama than a comedy. There are still a few comedic moments to be had here and there – Norman accidentally sort of hiring a hitman to run down girlfriend Carol in a tuk-tuk for example – but overall the comedy flows a lot less freely and feels a bit more forced, with much of it coming from Sonny’s awkward run-ins with Kush.
What it lacks in laughs, it more than makes up for visually. Much like its predecessor, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is beautiful, with its bright colours and stunning scenery, along with its well-written drama – from Evelyn and Douglas’s very slow moving relationship to Madge Hardcastle trying to decide which of her rich Indian suitors she wishes to marry, to Muriel’s coming to terms with her own mortality as her check-up at the local doctors reveals some bad news.
In conclusion, while it fails to quite live up to the high bar set by the first film, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel does still impress with the main cast putting in faultless performances from your typical bumbling Brit Douglas to foul mouthed and no nonsense Muriel. And although the older cast members take a little bit of a back seat with Dev Petel and Tena Desai taking more of a starring role as betrothed couple Sonny and Sunaina, all of their stories opened up in the first film are fully explored and left open just enough for that rumoured third instalment. At the same time the story stays true to its original themes of finding your place in the world (no matter your age) and how you are never too old to do something new. And, of course, Sonny’s motto from the very beginning of this Indian adventure: Everything will be alright in the end. If it is not alright then it is not yet the end.