There’s something to be said for being surprised by a film. When I bought a ticket to go watch John Madden’s ode to old age, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a few years ago at the cinema, it was because A) I had an unlimited card and B) I had exhausted every other option at the time. I went in ambivalent and come out thoroughly charmed.
And with great success comes great opportunity for a sequel; an installment John Madden had never envisaged while he directed the original a few years ago. The popularity of the first – with all age demographics, not just the elderly to whom it was obviously catered to – was a surprise to everyone involved.
With the element of surprise stripped of the sequel, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel goes down the route taken by many sequels: bigger, louder and hopefully better.
Everything seems larger in scale this time around. Owner of the titular establishment, Sonny (Dev Patel), wants to expand the Marigold Hotel name and seeks to, with the help of Muriel (Maggie Smith), broker a deal with an investment company to facilitate the expansion. All the while, Sonny has an imiment wedding with fiancée, Sunaina (Tina Desai), to juggle alongside his professional ambitions.
It is this wedding that acts as the sticky tape to which everything else attaches to with mixed success. Evelyn (Judi Dench) and Douglas (Bill Nighy) continue their tepid will-they-won’t-they storyline; Muriel shows the most growth as she is now just curmudgeonly sans the racism from the first; Madge (Celia Imrie) is off doing…something, she is almost a non-entity save for the odd sexual remark to Richard Gere’s character, Guy; Penelope Wilton steals her scenes for the 20 minutes she’s in the film; and Norman (Ronald Pickup) and Carol (Diana Hardcastle) are involved in a ridiculous storyline that ends with Norman accidentally ordering a hit on his wife, he thinks.
Because there are so many little stories taking place, the film peaks and troughs depending on who Madden is pointing the camera at. He mostly sticks to Sonny and Sunaina’s wedding preparations in an interesting choice to focus on youth for the sequel and for the most part they are likeable focal points.
The film’s carnival atmosphere builds towards the big wedding in a dance sequence that ends The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel on a high note. The decision to shoot most of the story at night may have taken its toll on the senior-centric cast but it results in a pretty looking film – Madden makes the most of the vibrant Indian culture with lots of bold colours and terrific outfits on display.
The sequel hasn’t tainted the first by any means but I do hope that they refrain from checking in for a third outing. (5)