I was lukewarm on The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel when it opened two summers ago, so you probably won’t be surprised that I had a similar reaction to its sequel. The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is not terrible by any stretch, but I could have done quite well without it.
The sequel picks up some months after the first film’s story, with hotel manager Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel) trying to juggle his upcoming wedding to his girlfriend Sunaina (Tina Desai) with his planned expansion of his Jaipur senior living facility to a second property nearby. When a handsome guest (Richard Gere) arrives at the hotel unexpectedly, Sonny immediately assumes that he’s the point man for the American retirement-home chain that wants to back the expansion and starts fawning over the guy until you start to suspect that maybe Sonny has the wrong end of the stick.
This plotline is one of many, and it’s actually conceived somewhat cleverly, although director John Madden can’t make it stick. The hotel’s other residents all get their own plotlines, and they’re all quite tedious. Evelyn and the newly unmarried Douglas (Judi Dench and Bill Nighy) dance around each other like 14-year-olds wondering if the other person likes them likes them, Madge (Celia Imrie) weighs marriage proposals from two rich Indian men whom we never get to know, and Norman (Ronald Pickup) becomes paranoid after drunkenly giving an overly large tip to a cabdriver and then seeing the cab follow his girlfriend (Diana Hardcastle) everywhere.
Granted, it is nice to see Sonny’s mother (Lillete Dubey) catch the attention of the American tourist and be something other than overbearing, but it doesn’t come to anything more interesting than the others. Meanwhile, Muriel (Maggie Smith) has little to do except deliver peppery comments about everything. With such wan material, the cast seems to have left their A games back in the U.K., and while Patel turns actively annoying here, he’s still the only actor who isn’t going at half-speed.
The film is beautifully photographed, with rising-star cinematographer Ben Smithard (My Week with Marilyn, Belle) taking a breathtaking side trip to a fabric factory in Jaipur. When one storyline takes a detour to the more modernized city of Mumbai, it makes for an instructive contrast. The opening sequence features Sonny barreling down Route 66 outside San Diego in a rented convertible (with Muriel barking at him to put the top up). It all makes The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel nice to look at, but it can’t make up for the flaccid storytelling. When Muriel gets back from America and is asked what she thought of the place, the cranky old lady says, “I went in with low expectations, and they were fulfilled.” Sometimes a movie criticizes itself better than I can.
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Starring Dev Patel and Maggie Smith. Directed by John Madden. Written by Ol Parker. Rated PG-13.