With Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Richard Gere, Dev Patel. Written by Ol Parker. Directed by John Madden. Rated PG for some language and suggestive comments. 122 minutes.
THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL is a relaxed and charming follow-up to the 2011 hit “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” about British retirees with limited funds who end up at a rundown hotel in India. The charm came from the top-flight cast playing quirky characters whom we not only laughed at but laughed with. The message was that it’s never too late and you’re never too old to have new adventures.
In this sequel, Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel) is ready to get outside help to acquire a second hotel and expand his operations. He’s also planning on marrying Sunaina (Tina Desai). Meanwhile, the residents are having their own romances. Douglas (Bill Nighy) is interested in Evelyn (Judi Dench) but she’s hesitant, instead throwing herself into a new career as a buyer of Indian textiles. Muriel (Maggie Smith) is as cantankerous as ever, but trying to help Sonny realize his dreams.
The arrival of Guy (Richard Gere) complicates things. He claims to be a divorced retiree working on his first novel. Sonny is convinced he’s really the secret inspector from the hotel chain with whom he hopes to make a deal. For his part, Guy is interested in Mrs. Kapoor (Lillete Dubey), Sonny’s mother.
There’s more, but as we jump from story to story, the plot is less important than the characters. If we didn’t like, say, Madge (Celia Imrie), we wouldn’t care about her dilemma of having two suitors and not being able to make up her mind. Watching the film you just want to relax and settle back. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a warm bath.
If the simple storylines border on cliché–Sonny’s jealous of a more attractive and wealthier cousin; Norman (Ronald Pickup) thinks Carol (Diana Hardcastle) is cheating on him–director John Madden and screenwriter Ol Parker once again make good use of the Indian locations where some of the film was shot. They also utilize various Indian customs surrounding Sonny and Sunaina’s wedding, making it seem “exotic” enough while keeping it friendly and accessible for viewers. By the time everyone breaks out into a “Bollywood” style dance number at the wedding, it will all seem quite familiar.
Of course, the real draw here is the cast, and the sheer professionalism of the actors is what makes it delightful. Veterans like Dench, Smith, Gere, Nighy and the others have all done better work elsewhere, but there’s never a moment where you feel they’re just showing up for a paycheck. A sequence in which Evelyn and her assistant have to negotiate with a Mumbai textile maker is a quite funny, while the heart-to-heart between Douglas and his daughter about their respective lives is touching. Those little moments of sly comedy or honest emotion redeem a lot of the schmaltz.
“The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” leaves you wondering if there will be a third. Let’s put it this way: if there is, it will undoubtedly be a lot more welcome than sequels like “The Hangover, Part III.” •••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.