Someone’s apparently never listened to Madonna. Otherwise, they’d remember her immortal words: “Don’t go for second best, baby.”
When it was released back in 2012, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was an unexpected box office hit. It wasn’t an extraordinary film, but its premise of senior citizens finding a second wind in life was brightened by an impeccable cast that included a who’s-who of established British actors, including Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy and Tom Wilkinson. On top of addressing the need for seniors to have a purpose in life in their later years, the film also tackled other issues, including racism, the dangers of being closeted, and assimilating into a new land.
Those issues are largely resolved by the end of the first film, so the sequel has to create new sources of conflict to drive its story. Picking up eight months after its predecessor, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel finds hotel co-managers Sonny (Dev Patel) and Muriel (Smith) working to expand the hotel into a franchise by opening a second location. Yes, with the name of the film. They’re given interest by an American-based company, whose owner says that he’ll send his “guy” out to examine the hotel. When an American named Guy Chambers (Richard Gere) checks in to the hotel, Sonny goes overboard to take care of him – whether Guy asks for something or not.
Meanwhile, Evelyn and Douglas (Dench and Nighy) are slowly (painfully) tiptoeing around a potential relationship while they enter the workforce. Norman and Carol (Ronald Pickup and Diana Hardcastle) are exploring monogamy, while Madge (Celia Imrie) pursues relationships with two different men. Sonny is also approaching his wedding to Sunaina, but finds himself distracted by the hotel.
The problem with The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is that its drama largely hinges on the romantic relationships, including a few not mentioned above. The Norman and Carol storyline is at least interesting, since it tackles exclusivity in relationships between people who aren’t accustomed to it. Otherwise, the relationships shown are individually fine, but taken en masse, they start to blur into each other.
Even the few non-romantic storylines fail to offer anything quite as exciting as what the first film offered. Sonny was an annoyance in the first film, but here, he’s flat-out obnoxious. Dev Patel tries his hardest, but Sonny should be a character audiences root for, at least to some degree, and he’s not. His mistreatment of other characters shows that he has no aptitude for running a hotel (or being married), even if he has the assistance of Muriel.
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel still has some charms, mostly due to the talented, distinguished British cast. But the only area where this film improves upon its predecessor is when it allows Judi Dench and Maggie Smith to share scenes, something the first film surprisingly didn’t do. Otherwise, this film isn’t quite enough to live up to its predecessor. If this one does well enough for a third film, hopefully they’ll tighten things up.