The first Marigold Hotel film was nothing spectacular, either in its writing or its direction, but it had a distinct advantage of appealing to an older demographic by compiling some of the grandest titans of British cinema: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, and Penelope Wilton, just to name a handful. And this worked out in the film’s favor, as these performers injected life into these characters that lesser actors would have been unable to do. And now, in the second installment, the kindest thing I can say is that we have received more of the same. The first film is the better installment, but if you had any interest in seeing these characters grow further, this will certainly meet your fix. To abuse a pun seemingly used by every other critic out there, this truly is the second best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
If you haven’t seen the first film, you’ll likely be lost, as this installment largely relies on your knowledge of the characters and how they grew and developed in the first film. A few months later, Evelyn (Judy Dench) and Douglas (Bill Nighy) are having trouble admitting their affection for one another, Madge is torn between two suitors, Norman struggles with monogamy and has potentially set up his girlfriend Carol to be murdered by a hitman, and Muriel (Maggie Smith) continues to co-manage the hotel with Sonny. Sonny is the true star of this installment, though, paradoxically enough given this sequel’s key over-60 demographic. He wishes to expand the Exotic Marigold franchise, ignoring his fiancé Sunaina as she prepares for their wedding and growing jealous as she becomes closer to her dancing instructor.
If this sounds over-stuffed with plotlines, you’d be partially correct. While Sonny is the grounding force that keeps the story in a continuing arc, every other character’s story feels like an obligatory continuation of where they ended in the last film, but none of their tales really interconnect either eventfully or thematically. The first film had the benefit of being based on a novel, but here it seems the screenwriter had definite struggles in balancing so many characters while keeping them all in the same timeline, hence why Sonny has surfaced as a de facto protagonist.
Still, I find it hard to complain about seeing so many great actors on screen at once, bringing the exact same charm they offered in the last film. The Indian locales are beautiful as ever, shot with a tourist’s reverence. The film’s climax does drag on, considering just how may resolutions it feels it needs to portray, but the resolutions are hardly the point in a franchise that seems to pride itself on acting as a reaffirmation that being elderly does not mean that you have to live your life like it’s an ending. All in all, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is precisely what it sets out to be: more of the same. If you enjoyed the first film, you’ll likely enjoy this one. If you haven’t seen the first film, it’s not bad, and likely worth checking out. And then watch this one, as you’ll likely still get the same sense of catharsis, if only less so.
Can films targeted at the elderly still retain appeal for those in the ever important under-30 demographic? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.