MOVIE REVIEW: The Second Best Exotic Marigold


Time for rebirth and rejuvenation with another trip to Jaipur, India to visit with "The Dames"(Judi and Maggie, collectively, as they are referred to by screenwriter Ol Parker) and company, all of whom we find are still happily residing as their respective characters at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. When we last saw our favorite group of British retirees, each had left their native England to head to what was advertised as a luxurious retirement hotel in Jaipur - the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Unfortunately, the hotel was anything but luxurious, yet as moviegoers and fans of the first film know, the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was a prime example of making a silk purse from a sow's ear. As the overly excited hotel owner Sonny Kapoor hilariously tried to woo his girlfriend, stand up to his mother and remodel the hotel, the real story was in the new life, friendships and family being built by the hotel's residents. By story's end, Evelyn Greenslade was firmly ensconced in the Jaipur workplace and had more than a romantic notion for the shy Douglas Ainslie, especially since he had called it quits with his wife Jean and she had returned to England; Norman was enjoying many a viagra-free night with the lovely Carol; Madge had discovered there was life, romance and sex after 70 and was being courted by multiple wealthy men; and Muriel Donnelly, well, she had stepped in as Sonny's co-manager and turned the hotel into a profitable venture - so profitable and popular in fact that that leads us right into THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL!

Always fully booked and renovated into a beauteous reflective respite amidst the energy and excitement of Jaipur, it's clear to Sonny and Muriel that the solution to their success is to expand. With an eye on a certain property with plans to buy it and remodel, Muriel knows that outside financing it mandatory and THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL starts out in, of all places, California, USA, with Sonny and Muriel speeding along Route 66 towards a meeting with the head of an international chain of hotels, hoping to obtain his backing.

Following what the hyper-kinetic Sonny sees as a successful meeting, the two return to Jaipur where Sonny is being reluctantly immersed in wedding plans for his upcoming nuptials to long suffering girlfriend, Sunaina. But Sonny being Sonny, the wedding is on the backburner and he focuses all of his energies, wishes and dreams on obtaining THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL. Knowing that an hotel inspector will be coming to Jaipur incognito to check out the business, Sonny leaps into action with fawning exuberance at the appearance of Guy Chambers, a novelist from the United States. Certain that Guy is the inspector, Sonny falls all over himself trying to impress the man with obsequious attention. Adding a greater wrinkle for Sonny is that Guy is attracted to Sonny's widowed mother. (Of course, all of the hotel's female guests are attracted to Guy, especially Madge.)

Meanwhile, Evelyn and Douglas grow ever closer, although neither wants to make the "official" first move and they seem to be idling along in neutral with their engines getting ever hotter. Madge is in constant deliberation over which of her wealthy gentleman callers she will say "yes" to when each pops the marriage question she is certain is forthcoming. Muriel, the all-knowing, all-seeing keeper of secrets, may have a secret of her own. And in a brilliant bit of comedic farce, Norman inadvertently takes a hit out on Carol.

Once again directed by John Madden and written by Ol Parker, we have Parker's wife Thandie Newton to thank in large part for this charming sequel as, according to Parker, it was Newton who posed the questions to her husband, "What happens to them? What happens when Evelyn and Douglas ride off on the motorbike at the end of the first movie? Where does the new life lead everyone? I want to know." The answer to her questions, and mine, are now found in THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL (tongue in cheek on a few levels, wink-wink!)

The story is beautifully structured, albeit relatively predictable in many respects, which in this instance is a good thing as no one screwed around with a beloved concept and characters to the point of deviating from the essence of the story and the characters created on the page and in the first film. Once again, the film tugs at the heartstrings and is more than appropriately constructed to give us a third installment. Quite pleasing are a few unsuspected twists and turns that the story takes and some of the tacitly poignant visual metaphors that tie the two films together either in a neat little bow or as a kite string for a third film.

Character growth is wonderfully designed while retaining the very traits we fell in love with within each individual character. Nothing, however, is as magical as watching Judi Dench and Bill Nighy together as Evelyn and Douglas. You quickly find yourself tacitly urging them both onward into a more permanent and deepening relationship every time they appear on screen. Nighy is simply charming with a bumbling schoolboy nervousness and Dench is perfection, capturing the hesitancy of a first love. Their pairing (love interests of each other for the fourth time on screen) is a master class in nuance and performance.

Wonderful is to see Celia Imrie's Madge find a moral compass beyond money and Imrie plays it with nuanced truth. The subplot of the mistaken "hit" taken out by Norman on Carol adds some real fun and great comic lightness to the mix with Ronald Cousins clearly relishing the chance to ham it up a bit. Equally charming is the casual refinement that Diana Hardcastle brings to Carol. Another light touch and some real comic fun comes courtesy of Penelope Wilton who returns as Douglas' long-suffering, sign-the-divorce papers wife Jean.

Joining the cast this time out is David Straithern who, as hotel financier Ty Burley, adds a genuinely compassionate and loving touch, particularly in his exchanges with Maggie Smith's Muriel. Beautiful chemistry between Smith and Straithern. Quite honestly, and something I have already begged of Ol Parker, is to have Muriel get a little romance in her life with Ty as her suitor in a third installment. My fingers are crossed! And as for Smith, like Dench, Smith can do no wrong and here, she gives Muriel physical shadings that speak volumes, creating the mystery and air of secrets concerning Muriel herself.

Sadly, Richard Gere is so good as Guy Chambers that one wants to see more of him in the film. So affable, so at ease, so matter-of-fact, so handsome and sexy. The tentativeness he brings to Guy Chambers in his pursuit of Mrs. Kapoor is perfection. And speaking of Mrs. Kapoor, as with all of the more mature actors in MARIGOLD, Lillete Dubey brings an increased emotional depth to her performance with a slightly expanded role and with Gere to play with. It's a beautiful dance between the two.

The one downfall this go round is Dev Patel who gets to the point of total annoyance with his portrayal off Sonny. Patel pushes the envelope of cocky innocence and rapid fire cockeyed reasoning and argument just too far to the point of coming off like a blithering idiot you want to slap upside the head.

Once again, director John Madden delights with the color and beauty of Jaipur but what I find interesting in this go round, is that there seems to be more hustle and bustle of the area around the hotel as if community revitalization also occurred with the continued residency of our seniors. Nothing is as quiet and calm. It's a lovely metaphor, be it intentional or not, but knowing Madden's methods, I'm betting it is. Although initially disappointed that Ben Davis didn't return as cinematographer (seems he was off shooting a little film called "Guardians of the Galaxy") Ben Smithard does a fine job. Although much of the film doesn't have quite the same vibrancy of color and light as the first film, there is a more subtle visual texture that is softer, more comfortable in keeping with the now-comfort level of the hotel residents. More night scenes provide for touches of moonlight that only enhance blossoming romance among the seniors while a starker, brighter tone permeates the freneticism of Sonny's experiences. A lovely layer of cinematographic storytelling. But look out for the wedding of the century and all the traditional preparations and dances of a Bollywood-style affair. Smithard's lens dazzles with eye-popping beauty making exquisite use of twinkle lights that sparkle and dance.

Thanks to the wedding sequence, not to mention Evelyn's new job as a fabric buyer for a major company, costuming is more vibrant and alive, as is the color palette and fabrications of the various textiles in wardrobe and as part of Evelyn's character scenes. Equally lush is Martin Childs' production design which provides a serenity and calm within the Marigold Hotel residence contrasted with some local opulence and high energy richness and grandeur with the wedding reception.

Returning is composer Thomas Newman whose score retains the essence of that in the original film but with an increased energy, then complemented by the explosive musicality of the wedding and reception; an engaging generational and cultural musicality.

I never wanted to check out of the first "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel". Charming, poignant and touched with romance and whimsy, we all should also be this fortunate to be so golden in our golden years and now, I sure don't want to check out of THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL! Once you check in, you'll never want to check out!

Directed by John Madden

Written by Ol Parker

Cast: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Celia Imrie, Ronald Cousins, Diana Hardcastle, Dev Patel, Richard Gere, David Straithern


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