The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is exactly that — second best. A sequel was inevitable after the success of the first Marigold Hotel film, a charming comedy-drama based on a novel about a group of British senior citizens who retire to India and experience various forms of culture shock. There are enough engaging moments to keep the new film from being a total bust — it stars the wonderful Judi Dench and Bill Nighy, after all, and an elegant, silver Richard Gere also makes an appearance. But you can’t shake the feeling the script is trying too hard to please, upping the drama despite the fact that what made the first film so enjoyable was its relative simplicity.
As the movie opens, ambitious proprietor Sonny (Dev Patel) and prickly bookkeeper Muriel (Maggie Smith) are heading across Route 66 in the U.S., on their way to a business meeting. Sonny’s plan is to expand his senior citizen home empire to include a second hotel, just in time for his marriage to Sunaina (Tina Desai). This development provides a tiresome plotline: Although he should be helping with the upcoming nuptials, Sonny is distracted by finances instead of involved in the wedding planning. He’s also unreasonably jealous of the handsome old friend who actually is bothering to help Sunaina with her preparations. The bright-eyed, insanely positive entrepreneur has been replaced by a pouty, petulant whiner, a character shift that makes no sense unless screenwriter Ol Parker was desperate to manufacture conflict.
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Meanwhile, things are only slightly calmer among the hotel guests in India. Evelyn (Judi Dench) has used her sharp eye to land a new position that allows her to travel all over the country to buy fabric, but her potential romance with the newly single but still shy Douglas (Bill Nighy) remains at a frustrating standstill.
Sexy Madge (Celia Imrie) has the opposite problem: She’s got one lover too many and may be forced to choose between two men she is beginning to realize she doesn’t want. Norman (Ronald Pickup) is sharing a bed with Carol (Diana Hardcastle) but wonders if he should weasel out of monogamy when there are so many comely ex-pats available to him. In what turns out to be the silliest and least interesting diversion in the movie, he starts to believe he has inadvertently put out a hit on Carol and spends a great deal of time running around trying to chase down her would-be assassin.
The whirl of romance amid the older generation is generally delightful, though, especially when Douglas’ estranged wife (Peneope Wilton) reappears on the scene. The addition of Gere — who may or may not be spying on the hotel finances in light of the American investment — is more than welcome (although Richard Gere checking into a hotel for the elderly is more than a little unnerving for those of us who fondly remember his American Gigolo days).
Director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) ends on an upbeat note — a glorious Indian wedding — to remind us to revel in every joy life offers. Even if you don’t revel in every moment of this movie.
Cast: Maggie Smith, Richard Gere, Dev Patel, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tamsin Greig, Penelope Wilton, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup, David Straithairn.
Director: John Madden.
Screenwriter: Ol Parker.
A Fox Searchlight release. Running time: 122 minutes. Some language and suggestive content. Playing at area theaters.