Note: this review is featured on the Phoenix Film Festival’s website.
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is nearly identical to its predecessor in character, plot, and tone, yet that doesn’t take away from its affable and everlastingly charming qualities. This sequel to the 2012 summer hit is a reminder that older characters and actors deserve to be subjects of films just as much as those young, hot, “next big things.” Adding onto an already stellar cast by including Richard Gere and David Strathairn, the film has amped up its episodic storytelling to include even more side plots with minor payoffs. They somehow still feel rewarding, though, even as the film meanders through its plots and only has one true storyline that propels plot forward. Director John Madden has allowed for a unique franchise in film that remains largely unprecedented in a tired era of action-packed blockbusters ruled by superheroes. Here, we have a film series that is dominated by acclaimed and respected actors like Judi Dench and Bill Nighy that provide the film with constant subtlety and gravitas. I prefer that storytelling style any day of the week.
The film picks up where the previous one left off, with Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel) aiming to expand his hotels into a chain across India with the help of Muriel (Maggie Smith). They hope to explore run-down buildings and other disheveled places at their lowest moments in order to maximize their ability to be turned around; much like their customers that may be lost or near the end of their lives, they want to find a new life for these hotels. Evelyn (Judi Dench) is still one of the mainstays who works as a researcher for a fabric and linens company that wants to extend her a job as part of their expansion. That would mean moving and leaving behind the life she’s created, including her semi-fling with sort-of-married Douglas (Bill Nighy). Meanwhile, he is attempting to cope with her potentially leaving and the arrival of his wife and daughter from the UK. Carol (Diana Hardcastle) and Norman (Ronald Pickup) are in the midst of their affair being bothered by their pursuits of other partners, and the arrival of Guy (Richard Gere) and Lavinia (Tamsin Greig) as two hopeful customers at the hotel make for a mish-mash of events.
What’s so striking about this ensemble piece is that it keeps the exact same admiration for India despite its new additions and ability to grow more grim as these characters mature. There’s a sense of familiarity and loyalty to these characters that is refreshing and wholesome; nowhere to be found is a secret desire to kill off these old people in favor of newer voices like Gere. Instead, they want to expand the world and invite new folks into their place of leisure. The performances all-around are undeniably terrific and they hold a stronger power here now that these characters have been developed in a previous 120-minute narrative. They are free to roam and feel their stories blossom with newfound developments. That sense of camaraderie defining the Marigold Hotel franchise is the focal point of their success, as these characters are simply lovable and compassionate individuals, a rarity in film. Tack on the fact that they are all over 60 (minus Patel, who really shines opposite these older voices) and it makes for a funny, moving, and altogether enjoyable tale, even if it feels like a road previously traveled.
Grade: ★★★½ (out of 5)