This sequel follows the group of transplanted British retirees living out their golden years in India at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, under the watchful eyes of energetic owner Sonny (who takes roll call every morning with his trusty clipboard, to make sure no one has “passed” during the night. While the first film was an engaging, bittersweet comedy of aging British expatriates learning to appreciate life, as opposed to merely awaiting death, the follow-up is a decidedly commercial enterprise—in fact, much of the plot has to do with Sonny hoping to expand to another hotel, and seeking the support of American financial interests to do so.
Despite the fact this is really an unnecessary venture, there is much to like about The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
Like its predecessor, it is quite convincing in depicting its belief that age is nothing but a number (although these are some of the hardiest senior citizens you’re likely to see). Primarily however, there are the fine performances of much of the returning cast, as well as a few newcomers. Judi Dench does a lovely job of depicting Evelyn’s dilemma over sharing her heart with the devoted Douglas (Bill Nighy) while pondering an offer to return to the professional fold—and exploring the possibility that one need not negate the other. Nighy is affecting and amusing as the sensitive Douglas who has the heart, but not necessarily the words. Ronald Pickup manages to deepen his somewhat roguish character while Penelope Wilton scores some touching moments as Nighy’s soon to be ex-wife. As Sonny’s confidante and voice of reason, Maggie Smith is acerbic and poignant, lending the film both its edge and a bit of heart.
Of the newcomers, the most prominent of course is Richard Gere, and he’s actually pretty good (some other notices to the contrary) as the mysterious visitor and would-be author who arouses Sonny’s suspicions. He’s dashing and uncomfortable (both as the script demands) and if anything, his good looks could be exploited more, especially seeing what his probable impact would be among this predominantly female clientele—it even inspires one good line out of Sonny, who remarks that Gere’s good looks make him question his own sexual identity.
And this leads us to the major problem with this Hotel. Specifically it’s Sonny—as played (or shall we say overplayed) by Dev Patel, there is simply too much of him. Screenwriter Ol Parker grants Patel too much screen time to his hyperactive antics, diverting viewers from the classy contingent of seasoned actors doing fine work, while director John Madden does nothing to rein Patel in. His exuberance crosses the border into exhausting and only serves to pad out the film’s running time, making this trip seem overextended. If there’s another excursion to the Marigold Hotel, it would be wise to focus on the guests, and not as much as management.