Directed by John Madden
Written by Ol Parker
When the first Best Exotic Marigold Hotel came out a few years back, I did not enter with trepidation as my expectations were censored to include only the mildest hopes of an enjoyable movie, and an enjoyable movie is exactly what I got. John Madden and his wonderful cast of aging British stars were able to take such a simple concept and infuse it full of life and verve, an unexpected delight. There was never anything big, or grand about the affair. Its aspirations were never to change the way we make or watch movies, and that is part of what made it so charming. Sometimes we need these kinds of movies to remind us of the simple pleasures and joys of life, of friends and family. But when a sequel was announced, I have to admit to having been at least a little skeptical of what could be added.
With this second film, I can now say that nothing was added, and that is quite alright with me. Madden and screenwriter Ol Parker take us back to India, back to the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, back with the same old folks aging gracefully, and back with the same charm, heart and verve delivered in the first. Conforming to conventions, the film features a plot, it’s true. Sonny (Dev Patel) and Mrs. Donnelly (Maggie Smith) travel to America where they try to earn the financial backing of a hotel company in order to expand with a second hotel. When they return, Sonny is skeptical of their new guests, fearing one of them is a hotel inspector. Sonny’s ambitions soon get in the way of his marriage plans, straining his relationship with his fiancée (Tina Desai). But as the wedding day draws nearer, the relationships of all the guests begin to take form.
Ultimately a film like this is hardly about plot. Instead, Madden, Parker, et al. spend their time and resources communicating a level of humanity, dignity, humor, and love. It is these qualities that surprised me most and make this seemingly unnecessary sequel actually just as charming as its predecessor, if not more so. There are certainly plenty of things the film gets wrong, throwaway one liners, forced plotting, but getting to spend more time with these characters has shown me something. Mirroring a line from the movie about one of its characters, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel gets a lot wrong, but it gets it right when it counts. It gets the heart right, and that is why this film is worthwhile.
It is, however, also worthwhile due to its tremendous cast, led by Maggie Smith. In many ways, the initial installment in the Marigold franchise was a great avenue for Judi Dench and her character Evelyn. With the second film in the series, Dench is again wondrous, but it is her counterpart Maggie Smith that delivers the best performance of the film. Her humor mixed with her vulnerability make Mrs. Donnelly not only likable, but relatable in more ways than one. Seeing these two great actresses working so well alongside each other got me thinking that a buddy comedy featuring the two needs to be made, as it would be the most wonderful creation of all buddy comedy scenarios and a true cherry on top of their amazing careers.
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel very well may be a superior effort than the first, making the naming convention used quite confounding, but neither movie is made with the pizzazz or ambition to contend for Oscars or BAFTAs at the end of the year. They’re not made to be worldwide blockbusters (though I’m sure they’d like to make a buck). The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel movies seem, to me, to have been made with the ambition to get a great cast together to have some fun and make a heartwarming movie. This film not only delivers on this ambition, but it excels at it. There is no forgiving the film of its failures, but for me, there is also no faulting it for them either.
*** – Very Good