Movie review: The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

(image via IMP Awards)
(image via IMP Awards)


Time is a cruel mistress/master/old man with a scythe and not much in the way of new opportunities past a certain point, an often less than palatable fact of life that formed the centrepiece of the charming British comedy with a message The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012).

In the original movie, a disparate group of retirees from England, forced by circumstance, largely of the financial kind, found themselves having to emigrate to India to live in one of the most unique retirement homes ever conceived in the Pink City of Jaipur, a seen-better-days hotel run by the highly inexperienced but enthusiastic Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel).

The film charted the wildly different attempts of Evelyn Greenslade (Judi Dench), Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith), Douglas and Jean Ainslie (Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton), Madge Hardcastle (Celia Imrie), Norman Cousins (Ronald Pickup) and Carol Parr (Diana Hardcastle) to find a home in an entirely new culture, making much of the fact that here was a group of people suddenly given a new lease on life, and unsure, at least at first, what it is they should do with it.

That they adapted and thrived is the sort of outcome you would expect from a feelgood film like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and so it is that we find them eight short months later, well entrenched in their new lives, scarcely believing that they have been given a wholly unexpected chance to re-invent themselves.

Evelyn is now the fabrics buyer for a newly-minted handicrafts company and very much in love with the now-seprated Douglas even if neither of them will admit to the fact, Muriel is co-manager of the hotel and co-presenter with Sonny to a group of hotel investors in USA, headed by David Strathairn’s character, who may be able to ensure there is not one but two Best Exotic Marigold Hotels, while Norman and Madge, who is wooing but not one but two wealthy Indian suitors, hold the fort at the down on its luck expats enclave, The Viceroy Club.

Carol meanwhile is hard at work at a travel agency, the status of her relationship with Norman a little murky even if they are passionately devoted to each other, while Jean Ainslie is back in England, her distaste for India prompting her to end the marriage that neither she nor Douglas have much appetite for anymore.



So all seems well with the world, and with all the characters largely happily in place, the stage is set for screenwriter Ol Parker, to simply fire up the same old jokes, run everyone through the same old routines and conjure another delightful frothy confection of a sequel, one that bears a great resemblance to the original.

Only the remarkable thing is that he doesn’t do that at all.

Certainly, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel keeps very much to the spirit of the first film, but where it was a three act play essentially that outlined the group’s arrival, settling in and happy adaptation to their new lives, the sequel toys with the structure, taking as its focus Sonny’s impending nuptial’s to the radiant Sunaina (Tena Desae) and the gleefully haphazard wannabe hotel mogul’s growing closeness to Muriel who takes over from Evelyn as the beating heart of the retiree group.

The issues that confront the group now are the sort that strike anyone reaching the maturing stage of a new venture – now that the initial kinks have been ironed out, where to next?

Where do you take your budding new relationship, your new job opportunity, your new single outlook on life at an age when most people tell you that you should be sitting back, knitting a nice tea cosy and nodding off to Hercule Poirot mysteries on the television.

These all too real life crises of a sort lend the movie more heft than you might expect it to have, with each character. for a short time at least, unable to simply sit back and enjoy their new idyllic, fulfilling lives.

One thing that does remain constant is Sonny’s way with an too-much-information oneliner – “Here they come like lemmings to the cliff edge!” – and his obsession, accidental of course, with reminding his devoted tenants that they will die one day and quite possibly sooner than they expect.

His is a larger-than-life, joyfully upbeat personality, one that, for all his exuberant mistakes, perennially sees only a glass half full; however, his generally optimistic outlook takes a beating when it looks like Sunaina’s brother’s best friend, the dashing, utterly charming Kushal (Shazad Latif) is going to come in and steal both his fiancee and the location of his much-vaunted second hotel out from under him.



As is the way of things in movies as delightfully light and frothy as The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which is every bit as much the joy-inducing crowd pleaser that made its predecessor such a box office success, their trials aren’t too life-threatening or dire but the fact that they are there at all indicates that neither writer Ol Parker nor director John Madden are content to simply fill the movie with sparkling jokes and funny observations about the many perils and typically assumed, few pleasures of growing old.

Instead, while they very much craft a movie that is propelled by the awkwardly sweet, yearning banter of would-be lovers Evelyn and Douglas, the quest for monogamy by Norman and Carol, the longing for a soulmate by Madge and the zesty bonhomie of Sonny and Muriel, who between the two of them get most of the laugh-inducing lines in the film, you are not expected to leave your brain or your anxieties about growing older at the door.

It’s this concern with addressing some of the real issues of entering your “twilight years” that lends the humour so much of its resonance and makes the dramatic scenes, of which there are more than you might expect, so poignant and touching.

Funny, sweet and endearing The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel might be – its title alone suggests it is not going to take itself too seriously – but beneath its quirkily comedic exterior beats a treatise of sorts on whether we can actually re-invent who we are at a time when we are supposed to be well and truly done with second chances.

And it’s this substantial line of questioning, and its well-handled outworking throughout the movie, that makes the film a far more robust and ultimately enjoyable comedy than you might initially suspect.



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