It’s easy to roll your eyes at the title The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. But it’s nearly impossible not to be won over by its charms.
Director John Madden and writer Ol Parker reunite along with Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup, Diana Hardcastle, Penelope Wilton and Dev Patel. Picking up a few months after The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’s conclusion, this sequels has the English ex-pats who’d been fish out water in the first film, settled into their lives in India, having found work, romances, and/or purpose.
The ever-enthusiastic hotel owner Sonny (Patel) has found new purpose with plans to make a second home for the elderly and beautiful. But his desperation to expand his operation could derail his wedding to Sunaina (Tina Desai). Other threads in this ensemble-dramedy involve couples grappling with the next step in their relationships, choosing between two wealthy local (but in any other way indistinguishable) suitors, and accidentally putting a hit out on one’s girlfriend. Plus Richard Gere pops in to spur intrigue and lots of jokes about how intensely handsome he is.
Plot-wise, it’s a mess, with simple threads colliding awkwardly to the detriment of pace and tension, while others prove clunky or dull. But this isn’t really a movie where the plot matters. It’s much more an excuse to hang out with these characters more. The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel feels more like a victory lap for its cast than an actual movie. And you know what? I’m fine with that, mainly because I could happily watch Dame Judi Dench read the instruction manual to my cable box. (I’m free whenever, Judi.)
So often the sneering matriarch, Dench is light-hearted and lovely in this setting. Her chemistry with Bill Nighy is downright adorable, showing that getting flustered when flirting is not just for youngsters. But there’s no shortage of sassy old British ladies. Maggie Smith is endlessly fun as a no-fucks-to-give curmudgeon with a biting wit, and Penelope Wilton drops by to throw some snippy shade. Richard Gere radiates with warmth, a nice change from so many dour roles of late. And the unadulterated joy of Dev Patel’s Sonny is contagious, exploding into a Bollywood-style dance finale that lets everyone cut loose.
It’s schmaltzy and sentimental. It’s not challenging, tragic, or the kind of thing awards season will pay attention too. But who cares? In the midst of a bleak winter and tons of bad news hammering us at every turn, I’m grateful for a movie this sweet, warm and celebratory. The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is downright delightful, and thank God!
Kristy Puchko dreams of being Judi Dench’s best friend.