The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Three years ago, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel took indie theaters by storm around the world, recouping almost fourteen times its original ten-million-dollar budget. I can hardly blame the filmmakers for going back for more, but the unfortunate title — The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel — gives away the more unfortunate truth: after adapting Deborah Moggach’s novel, These Foolish Things, there was precious little left for Ol Parker to adapt into another screenplay, and he has no idea what to do with these characters.
We still have the same ensemble cast of aging Brits, now injected with Richard Gere to play more to the older American audience that loves him. But now that they’re all installed as residents of the Jaipur hotel, their nuanced character growth seems largely over. Instead we get farce after farce after farce, all sounding more or less the same.
Sonny (Dev Patel) still owns the hotel, with Muriel (Maggie Smith) as his business manager, and he’s seeking to branch out to a second site. He’s also about to marry Sunaina (Tena Desae), but when his childhood rival Kushal (Shazad Latif) shows up, Sonny worries about losing both his business and his fiancée.
Still, in order to buy a second property, Sonny has been reaching out to a foreign investor (David Strathairn), who says he’ll send “his guy” to check the place out. When a new guest (Gere) gives his name as “Guy Chambers”, Sonny is convinced this is the secret investigator, but the film does everything possible to scream that it’s actually the other new guest, Lavinia (Tamsin Greig). And so Sonny panders to Guy while giving Lavinia the cold shoulder. Guy, on the other hand, takes quite the shine to Sonny’s widowed mother (Lillete Dubey).
Meanwhile, Evelyn (Judi Dench) has a bit of a career going, sourcing fabrics. Douglas (Bill Nighy) — the other resident who’s best adapted to life in Rajasthan — has been sweet on her since his wife, Jean (Penelope Wilton) ran back to Britain. Evelyn knows this, and she’s about to get her nerve up to respond to him when Jean shows up again along with the seemingly-forgiven daughter who lost all of Jean and Douglas’ money in the first place.
The would-be lothario Norman (Ronald Pickup) is actually in high demand from the ladies at the ex-pats’ club, where he now works with Madge (Celia Imrie). This is actually a bad thing, though, since he’s now with Carol (Diana Hardcastle), whom he met last time. Worse, he explains all this within earshot of a tuk-tuk driver whom he then tips generously, so he might have taken a hit out on his girlfriend.
Over and over, it’s nothing but bog-standard farce. Someone thinks something about someone else, but they’re wrong. The arcs resolve when people realize their mistakes, but there’s no real growth or insight here. Parker even tries throwing a little misdirection our way in a couple instances — one of which ends up as a downright cruel joke — but he has nothing of substance to offer.
John Madden struck gold last time, but there’s nothing but pyrite here. It glitters, and a few scenes here and there are charming, but there’s no substance behind it. Even his new cinematographer, Ben Smithard, fails to capture the gorgeous Indian scenery Ben Davis delivered. I’m certain this movie will be another big success, but it’s hollow and boring next to the last one.
Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.