THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL
DIRECTED BY John Madden
STARS Judi Dench, Maggie Smith
Lillete Dubey and Richard Gere in The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (Photo: Fox Searchlight)
Sequels are perpetually rocked hard by the law of diminishing returns, which is why it comes as a pleasant surprise to note that many of the follow-ups from the past 12 or so months actually improved on their predecessors. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was a vast improvement over Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a moderate improvement over Captain America: The First Avenger, and even The Amazing Spider-Hipster 2 was a slight improvement over The Amazing Spider-Hipster (although in that last case, I guess that's like saying two-day-old moldy bread is a slight improvement over three-day-old moldy bread). The trend now continues with The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which bests its predecessor, the 2012 art-house hit The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
To be sure, the difference is slender — both receive the same star rating — but there's a breeziness to this sequel that was missing from the first installment. Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel) is still running the hotel in India that specifically targets senior citizens, only now he wants to expand the business by opening a second venue (hence the film's title). His entrepreneurial hustling — which includes buttering up a guest (Richard Gere) he believes to be a scout for the financiers — ends up interfering with his upcoming wedding, a situation that rightly upsets his fiancée Sunaina (Tina Desai). Meanwhile, the regulars go about their business, with Evelyn (Judi Dench) forced to decide between pursuing a new career or spending more time with the smitten Douglas (Bill Nighy), Muriel (Maggie Smith) worrying about her health, Norman (Ronald Pickup) and Carol (Diana Hardcastle) contemplating affairs, and Madge (Celia Imrie) still trying to bed any male with a pulse.
By being able to move past the first film's meandering exposition and occasionally unconvincing characterizations (as I wrote in my review of the original, "Smith's character is a repulsive, unrepentant racist, but she removes the shackles of her long-held prejudiced views in about the amount of time it takes the rest of us to watch the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird"), The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel allows its principals more room to breathe. Sonny's woes are more engaging than those he experienced in the 2011 take, while the tentative relationship between Evelyn and Douglas continues to be nicely handled. And while the subplots involving the secondary actors (Pickup, Hardcastle, Imrie) are painfully flimsy, Gere proves to be a welcome addition, especially in the scenes in which he woos Sonny's apprehensive mom (Lillete Dubey). I'm not sure the world needs a third Exotic Marigold Hotel, but this one's pleasant enough to inhabit for a couple of hours.