Genre: Comedy, Drama
Directed by: John Madden
Starring: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Dev Patel, Celia Imrie
Never has a title seemed so detrimental to a film’s advertising campaign as this. Whether or not the negative connotations of labelling John Madden’s surprise sequel as an inferior follow-up to his smash-hit senior comedy went ignored or unnoticed remains to be seen. But it nonetheless made it that much harder to raise one’s hopes that this second journey to Jaipur, with what is essentially a thespian alternative to The Expendables, would be anything more than mediocre. It is therefore an absolute pleasure, and somewhat of a surprise to tell you that the title of The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (from here on out referred to as TSBEMH) in no way reflects the film’s quality.
With no Deborah Moggach source material to follow second time around, scribe Ol Parker has been given the opportunity to take this tale of British retirees residing in India in any direction he wishes. But, perhaps inevitably, the writer has decided to offer us much of the same. And as such TSBEMH does suffer from similar narrative issues as that of its predecessor.
The structure is episodic, and at times distractingly disjointed. As well as progressing the stories of the original visiting characters (Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Celia Imrie and Ronald Pickup), we are introduced to two new arrivals in the form of Richard Gere and Tamsin Greig, who are both essentially left to side until they become integral to the plot for large stretches of the overlong running time. And then there’s the hotel’s heroic young owner Sonny (Dev Patel), brought to the front of the fray as he tries to find a balance between expanding his business and planning his wedding.
With so many varying components to the plot, it’s no wonder that Madden and Parker have trouble juggling them all simultaneously. However what the film lacks in cohesion, it makes up for in charm. Make no mistake, this is very much a romanticised vision of India, far removed from the pain and poverty felt in the likes of Slumdog Millionaire. But crucially, it never tries to be anything more than an idealised and indulgent treat.
Madden handles his direction with a light touch, as if he were kneading the soft dough of a Nann bread, which effortlessly complements Parker’s sunny script. While the plot may not be particularly spicy, the dialogue sizzles with wit from the start. Ben Smithard’s gorgeously colourful photography is eminently immersive, effervescing a vigorous vibrancy that’s further accentuated by the lively Hindi soundtrack.
As with the original of course, the key ingredient is the cast. Dench and Nighy add great heart, as Evelyn and Douglas ponder the uncertainties of their future together. Imrie and Pickup bring much of the humour, as Madge and Norman both try to traverse the tricky waters of relationships. While Smith carefully balances the laughs with honesty and understated pathos, as Muriel slowly starts to reflect upon the realities that come from entering your twilight years. Yet it’s Patel who truly shines through and steals the limelight here. His crackling quick-fire comedic delivery and extraordinary energy enlivening the film from the first moment he appears.
When you boil it down, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is equally as enjoyable as its forerunner. Like a great curry, it’s a warm and rich delight that, despite suffering from an overload of flavours, has a taste that effortlessly soothes your heart.