The name of The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is apt in that it is second best to the first production. It’s not clear to me why this one was made; it is so similar to the other one in terms of the humor, the colorful setting, and the kinds of fixes the characters have to solve. It’s a bit like hearing a good joke the second time.
In the first Marigold Hotel, Sonny (Patel) is the young and naïve but totally committed Indian who is trying to get the hotel in operation and recruit senior citizens from England to take residence there. A group of them do arrive, and connections (and one disconnection) among the characters develop, and their exploration of the Indian sights and culture entertain us nicely.
Now, the hotel is running and reasonably well managed by Sonny and his co-owner, the crusty but sharp Muriel (Smith). The two make a trip to America to get financing to acquire an additional hotel and apply to be a part of a franchise. When they return, they must deal with a few glitches—such as a romantic and business rivalry that Sonny has to deal with. But most of the story involves the coupling of the characters. Sonny and his fiancé have set a date for their wedding. Evelyn (Dench) and Douglas (Nighy) seem to be hitting it off, and when Douglas’ ex, Jean (Penelope Wilton), suddenly appears for a visit, we’re treated to her caustic attempts at humor. One of the single women is in a dilemma trying to make up her mind between two suitors, and another is holding a lovelorn at bay as she plays the field for a while longer.
Two somewhat mysterious guests appear and assumptions are made as to who one of them (Richard Gere) actually is, but he immediately begins pursuing Sonny’s mother. It’s almost like everyone has to be paired up by the end of the show, even though Gere’s character seems entirely extraneous.
The British actors, particularly Dench, Smith, Nighy, and Wilton shine as usual, and are able to elevate the dialog and make their scenes sparkle. Patel is skilled at playing a range of emotions and deliver his hard sells with rapid fire, and the interactions between him and his fiancé reflect common pre-marital tensions. The wedding party thrown later is really beautiful and radiates the colorful Indian culture.
John Madden’s direction, the music by Thomas Newman, and cinematography by Ben Smithard are all well executed and contribute to the beauty and entertaining nature of the picture. I enjoyed the first one much more because it was fresh and new. While this is still good, it is like a second visit to the same story.
Literally, a second-best production.