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The success of a 2012 movie about a bunch of UK OAPs (Old Age Pensioners) taking a big leap to see out their golden years in a ramshackle rest home in India was a surprise.  The coming-of-old-age dramedy, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, was a surprise box office hit.  Cast with most of the UK’s over-60 leading lights, the beautifully photographed cinematic holiday, with its message that life’s not over until it’s truly over, seemed to particularly resound with a previously undeserved demographic.  The film was such a hit, that naturally another trip to the Ganges was in order.

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel picks up not long after its predecessor, but starts its journey on Route 66, where would-be entrepreneur, Sonny, and his main investor, the salty Mrs. Donnelly, live the (his) American dream of flying down the legendary highway in a convertible.  They’re heading west to meet with a conglomerate that Sonny hopes will support his dreams of expanding his retirement living empire.  The company’s ‘definitely maybe’ until an on-site inspection can be held, invigorates the normally exuberant Sonny to levels of near-hysteria as his plans for a new Best Exotic Marigold Hotel seem to be coming to fruition, which would be great as Sonny’s wedding day to the sweet, steadfast Sunaina draws nearer.  Back at the hotel, the residents from the first film are seen to have been whiling away their days pursuing hobbies that turn into lucrative business offers, guiding tours (with a little electronic help), and generally enjoying their time as long term guests.  Douglas’ crush on the luminous Evelyn has gone nowhere - a situation he’d like to remedy if he could get her to stand still.  Evelyn’s skill and discernment helping a small, overseas textile company choose Indian materials turns into a real opportunity and she is hired to travel across the country on their behalf.  Sexy sexagenarian Madge has billionaires for every day of the week and perennial bounder Norman is surprisingly monogamous with his lady, Carol.  Of course, all cannot remain blissful and zen-like, and various misunderstandings and the not-entirely-welcome return of old friends disturb the peace.

Working in the template that did so well in 2012, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has brought back all of its cast that survived the first film (it is a movie about old people, after all), and added a few new faces, most notably, Richard Gere as a wandering soul who may or may not be the incognito inspector Sonny is overeager to impress.  Otherwise, there’s really not a lot new under the sun.  The film’s still shot gorgeously, though not quite with the freshness or grandeur of the first movie.  The fish out of water element is also gone as everyone is now part of the Hotel family.  We’re seeing them more or less getting on with their established existences instead of discovering their ways, and it’s just not as interesting.  The setup is extremely sitcom-ish; like the old Love Boat episodes where we go from this couple’s story, to that couple’s story, to this odd character on the fringes, etc.  Unlike the first film, where - slight as it might have been - the residents’ culture shock and adjusting - or not - to their new ways of life served as a binding tie between the characters and moved the film forward; but here there isn’t any real connection outside of their proximity to the hotel.  The film must then depend on the individual characters’ sequences being compelling enough to keep viewers’ attention and none of the stories is that interesting.  What there is is extremely cheesy and cliché, and indeed, very 1980’s sitcom; with Norman’s possibly drunkenly ordering a hit on his girlfriend, and Sonny’s over-effusive attention to the inspector, who no one’s really sure is actually the inspector.  All that was missing was the canned laughter.  There is much more time given to a potential triangle between Sonny, Sunaina and Sonny’s old frenemy, who’s returned to threaten everything Sonny has worked for.  Even that falls flat as Sunaina, who was such a lovely example of the modern, young Indian woman in the first movie, doesn’t do much this film except fuss at Sonny about their wedding. (She does get some dance sequences, this time, something actress Tena Desae told me she’d hoped for in our interview in 2012).

The luminous Judi Dench and the ever-cool Bill Nighy (in his omnipresent black suits, even in the Indian heat) are given a anemic romance that only shows some spark once his unhappy, caustic wife, played by Penelope Wilton, returns to proceed with their divorce.  Maggie Smith is present only to reel off excellently timed one-liners and throw her inimitable side-eye as needed, but then with even less frequently and bite than before.  That she has no storyline of her own in this film is a huge error. (How I longed for some quality time with my Downton Abbey OTP, Dames Smith and Wilton, and was terribly let down.)

Watching the excellent English cast of old pros play off each other in the first film was one of its great appeals, but there is hardly any interaction here.  Instead, the movie stays far too long on Richard Gere’s vague character’s wooing of Sonny’s prickly mom (Whose hardline rigidity from the first film evaporates in the face of Richard Gere).  The Norman storyline is silly and endless, and did we really need two long dance sequences for Sonny and Sunaina - and practice routines?  Utterly gone was any sense of gravity or real emotion, which Tom Wilkinson’s character of the man reuniting with his lost love provided beautifully in the original chapter.  The only thing audiences have to put their minds to in this sequel is which character is going to die before the final credits roll (it is a movie about old people, after all)?  And even in that instance, it feels like the viewer is being played.  The movie has no plot and instead meanders around aimlessly for two long hours, hoping that the charm of its cast – which really was about seventy percent of the first film’s appeal – will pull it through.

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel cannot be blamed for going to the well twice, but it certainly must be excoriated for outfitting its stunning cast with this half-baked, afterthought, shell of a script.  It is unfortunate, because the first film did so well to present an older audience with a well-crafted (if not brilliant or groundbreaking), light, entertaining movie with characters and situations they could relate to for a fun day out at the cinema.  Instead of employing that type of thoughtfulness to this sequel, the creators of this movie decided to coast on the previous film’s laurels and make no real effort at all.

Based on its predecessor’s success and once again leaning toward that untapped, older demographic, the filmmakers might be able to tempt the audience to try this sequel, but no one will be lining up to visit The Third Best Exotic Marigold Hotel without some real renovations.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

March 6th, 2015

 

 

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Photos

Stills Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

 

 

 

 

 

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