Movie Review: “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”

Dev Patel, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Richard Gere, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup, Diana Hardcastle
John Madden

When “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” opened in May 2012, it was viewed as a smart piece of counterprogramming to “The Avengers.” But something strange happened along the way: the senior-targeted dramedy became a box office hit in its own right, earning $136 million worldwide on a modest $10 million budget. Though its success was unexpected, no one could have imagined that it would breed a sequel, and yet here we are, four years later, with the gang reunited for another Indian adventure like some sort of Avengers-style retiree supergroup. Including the words “second best” in the title probably wasn’t intended as a comment on the movie’s quality, but while it’s not as good as its predecessor, “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” still skates by on the delightful charm of its ensemble cast.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has been in operation for eight months now, and passionate owner Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel) has grand ambitions to expand by purchasing a derelict hotel nearby. Sonny and assistant manager Muriel (Maggie Smith) travel to the U.S. to pitch their business plan to hotel tycoon Ty Burley (David Strathairn), and he agrees to send an inspector to check out the property. So when American tourist Guy Chambers (Richard Gere) arrives at the hotel claiming that he’s there to write his first novel, Sonny believes that he’s actually the inspector in disguise, waiting on him hand and foot instead of attending to his ceremonial duties for his forthcoming marriage to Sunaina (Tena Desae). Meanwhile, Evelyn (Judi Dench) is offered an amazing job opportunity that could affect her budding relationship with Douglas (Bill Nighy); Madge (Celia Imrie) is forced to choose between two Indian suitors; and Norman (Ronald Pickup) accidentally puts out a hit on his new girlfriend, Carol (Diana Hardcastle).

Unlike the first film, which was adapted from Debroah Moggach’s bestselling novel of the same name, “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” isn’t based on any existing source material, but returning director John Madden and writer Ol Parker do a great job of continuing the narrative in a way that makes sense. Whether a sequel was necessary at all is an entirely different matter, though fans of the original will no doubt enjoy spending another two hours with its funny and insightful cast of characters. Each one has been given their own subplot of varying significance (which contributes to the lengthy runtime), but only a few have enough meat on their bones to be truly engaging, particularly the stuff between Evelyn and Douglas, and the main storyline involving Sonny.

That’s largely because the actors are so immensely watchable. Patel’s Sonny can be a little annoying at times, but he’s the heart of the movie, and the actor never seems out of depth alongside his veteran co-stars. Dench and Nighy are once again in fine form (although when is that ever not true?), and while she doesn’t get much to do until the final act, Smith continues to be the franchise’s secret weapon, balancing comedy with the more poignant moments of her character’s arc. Gere also turns in a solid performance as the newest addition to the group, but he never quite fits in with his British counterparts, making him somewhat of an outsider in more ways than one. His storyline is also perhaps the most predictable of the bunch, but then again, the whole film is so formulaic that there’s very little surprise in anything that happens. “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is the kind of overly sentimental, stereotype-laden feel-good movie that Disney has perfected with its sports dramas, but the talented cast is so damn charming that they keep you invested in the story even at its schmaltzy worst.