REVIEW WRITTN BY NATHAN LERNER/For Digital First Media
Whenever a film does strong box office, the studio has a reflexive reaction to crank out a sequel and reap further profits. What is done when a film based on a freestanding novel becomes an unexpected hit?
Such was the case with “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” The 2012 release was a surprise success, raking in over $46 million in domestic receipts and another $90 million in foreign box office. However, Deborah Moggach, the writer of the novel, had never written a follow-up. That didn’t deter Ol Parker, who had adapted the novel for the first film. Undaunted, he simply cranked out an original screenplay.
As the sequel opens, the hotel that Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel) has opened in Jaipur, India, is now thriving. He is somewhat distracted by his impending nuptials to long-time sweetheart, Sunaina (Indian model, Tina Desai).
Most of the British pensioners from the original film are still living at the hotel as long-term guests. Now, they have all taken jobs to support themselves. Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith), a crusty septuagenarian works as Sonny’s assistant manager, Evelyn Greenslade (Judi Dench) has acquired a job as a buyer of exotic fabrics for a retail outlet. Douglas Ainslie (Bill Nighy) is her shy, tongue-tied admirer. He gives tours to visitors, even though he has acquired little knowledge of the local sites. Norman Cousins (Ronald Pickup) and his wife, Carol (Diana Hardcastle), tend bar at a local bar for Brits abroad. They are struggling with the constraints of monogamy. Meanwhile, the ever randy Madge (Celia Imrie) is juggling two different Indian suitors.
Only Graham Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson) is missing. Arguably, he was the first film’s most engaging character. Wilkinson brought a welcome note of poignancy to the original. He played a retired judge, who had been raised in India. Several of the women are drawn to the charming, former jurist. However, he is ultimately revealed to be gay. He has returned to India to address a childhood regret that he has long harbored. The absence of Wilkinson and his memorable character is sorely missed.
Buoyed by his hotel’s success, Sonny wants to expand his operation with a second location. He has discovered a promising property, which has fallen into disrepair. To purchase and renovate the dilapidated location, Sonny will need a financial backer. He and Muriel meet with Ty Burley (David Strathairn), the head of Evergreen, a U.S. based retirement firm. Before the C.E.O. invests in Sonny’s second hotel, he wants to do a little research. A hotel inspector will be showing up incognito and evaluating the potential investment.
Upon this return to the hotel, Sonny discovers there are two candidates for the hotel’s sole vacancy. A middle-aged Englishwoman, Lavinia Beech (Ramsin Grieg), claims that she is seeking a suitable place, where her mother can retire. Simultaneously, Guy Chambers (Richard Gere), an American, shows up without any advance reservation.
Since Evergreen is based in the United States, he concludes that Chambers must be the secret inspector. Based on this assumption, Sonny gives Chambers the choice accommodation. He relegates Beech to a space that isn’t even a bona fide guest room. Thereafter, Sonny treats Beech dismissively. By contrast, he fawns over Chambers. When Sonny expresses an attraction towards Sonny’s widowed mother (Lilette Dubey), he does everything possible to facilitate the fledgling relationship. Taken aback by her son’s efforts to play cupid, Mrs. Kapoor asks whether he is pimping out his own mother. Sonny sheepishly responds in the affirmative.
As Sonny is focused on the hotel, he neglects his fiancée, Suanina. She begins to spend an increasing amount of time with her brother’s handsome friend, Kushal (Shazad Latif). Predictably, Sonny has an attack of jealousy. Will these dynamics jeopardize the imminent wedding?
The capable crew of veteran English thespians deliver engaging performances. The cast has been strategically assembled. The addition of American actors, Gere and Strathairn, will help boost the U.S. box office. Similarly, Lilitte Dubey, a highly regarded actor/director in her native India, will enhance the commercial prospects there.
Screenwriter, Ol Parker, has done a surprisingly smooth job of creating a storyline, which seems to be an organic extension of the original work. The first film depicted the clash of cultures as elderly Brits encounter a world that is alien to them. Here, the focus is shifted, as the expatriates transition back into the workforce.
Director, John Madden (“Shakespeare in Love”) who helmed the original, lends a deft touch to the film. He maintains the narrative pacing of the film. Madden even demonstrates surprising skill at mounting a Bollywood style musical number.
“The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” represents the welcome return of multiple shades of graying actors to the screen. They make for an enjoyable dramedy.
***PG (for some language and suggestive comments) 122 minutes
Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.