Enjoy Another Stay at the Marigold!

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
(UK/USA, 122 min.)
Dir. John Madden, Writ. Ol Parker
Starring: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Dev Patel, Celia Imrie, Penelope Wilton, Ronald Pickup, Tina Desai, Diana Hardcastle, Lillete Dubey, Tamsin Greig, Shaza Latif with David Strathairn and Richard Gere.
Judi Dench as Evelyn Greenslade in The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
Laurie Sparham / Fox Searchlight Pictures
Enjoy another trip to Jaipur as the unlikeliest of sleeper hits returns in The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It’s hard to imagine that a film with an average age of 63 amongst its stars could be a major sequel to one of the biggest box office surprises in recent years, but the second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel proves that even box office clout applies to late bloomers. This delightful return to the Marigold Hotel mostly lives up to the high bar set by its predecessor: like a trip back to a favourite getaway, this holiday is only really missing the sparkly sense of surprise that makes the first Marigold such a winner. These old dogs can certainly teach the fledging teen-targeted franchises some new tricks.

The hotel and its geriatric residents are still kicking, but wise old Muriel (Maggie Smith) now enjoys a strong advisory role alongside Sonny (Dev Patel) as he ushers the Marigold Hotel into the world of franchise travel destinations. (How meta.) Evelyn (Judi Dench) and Douglas (Bill Nighy) are still flirting with their late blooming romance while the unholy trinity of Norman (Ronald Pickup), Madge (Celia Imrie), and Carol (Diana Hardcastle) are still as horny and young at heart as ever. Love is the air at The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and the retirement resort is a haven for new beginnings as it readies itself to host Sonny’s upcoming wedding to Sunaina (Tina Desai), which reminds the residents that it’s never too late to find love.

The second Marigold shows a few symptoms of sequelitis with a shaky first act that does the thankless effort of reminding audiences of all the characters and where they left off in the first film while also introducing some new faces and expanding some storylines. Second shoots off in various directions as it gives some of the more secondary residents from the first film more expanded roles in the second, and threads involving a hit man in a tuk tuk or a rival hotelier are about as fun as finding a cockroach under the sheets, but the second Marigold uses its wise old age to its advantage. New additions, like the fresh (and still youthful) face of Richard Gere as budding Marigolder Guy Chambers sets the residents a-gaggle, and Marigold introduces one new storyline that successfully carries the original’s theme of old and new beginnings as Sonny courts this potential investor and Guy courts Sonny’s mom (Lillete Dubey) and learns to love again.  The beautiful score by Thomas Newman infuses Bollywood energy with the familiar pensiveness of his other scores, and the lively music of The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel balances the divergent tones and storylines.
Maggie Smith as Muriel Donnely and Dev Patel as "Sonny" in The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
Laurie Sparham / Fox Searchlight Pictures

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel finds its stride in its second half, however, when it gains its focus on the best threads that make the trip so memorable. This Marigold, like the grandparents we love, simply moves a little slower than it did before. The storylines with Muriel’s second wind and with Evelyn and Douglas’s chance to revisit the thrill of romance both bring back The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’s poignant lesson of living life to the fullest.

Dench, even at 80, still provides a romantic lead for more appealing than any of the forgettable waifs do in the Nicholas Sparks films advertised in the pre-show entertainment. She’s as sharp and radiant as ever, particularly because Evelyn is as unsure of herself as someone jumping into love for the first time even though she’s sharp and shrewd while haggling with the local merchants. Nighy, similarly, does his funny rock-star bit as Douglas dances around Evelyn, while Imrie benefits the most from an expanded role as Madge finds herself torn between lovers for the first time. The stories of The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel could really fill any romantic comedy, but the wisdom and experience of the leads gives the film an extra flavour that no other comedy seems able to capture. Marigold sparks a successful sequel in this age-averse cinemascape because its characters are relatable to viewers of any generation.

The best example of this ageless grace is the venerable Maggie Smith, who is enjoying more success than ever in her lengthy career thanks to the one-two punch of Marigold and “Downton Abbey.” (Itself another unlikeliest of successes.) Smith provides an endlessly delightful comic with Patel and Dench alike as she adorns the Marigold Hotel with her trademark sarcasm and dry humour. Smith shows that she lands a barbed zinger with the same marksmanship with which Chris Kyle aims a bullet as she lands one well-timed retort after another, but Muriel’s string of one-liners sets the show for her age-old wisdom as she confronts her own journey and delivers an unexpectedly life-affirming monologue in Marigold’s finale. One notable change from the first Marigold to the Second is the absence of Evelyn’s voice-overs observations, but the film keeps every ounce of its wisdom of living life to the fullest as Smith surprises in the film’s final act.

Director John Madden and writer Ol Parker also show that some things improve with age as Second remedies the colonialist overtones of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by giving more screentime to the Indian characters and by making the British characters comfortable at home than they were before. If the first Marigold has the novel flavour of a beef samosa, then Second learns to respect the cows. This improvement mostly comes thanks to the subplot with Gere’s Guy and Sonny’s modest mother, and by the attention that Marigold devotes to the traditions of Sonny’s own wedding as it structures the film around the parties, acts, and rituals that he neglects in favour of his business plans with the hotel. The film builds to one of the big celebration ever as Sonny and Sunaina present their wedding day dance and Judi Dench and company shake a leg to the Bollywood beat. It’s one of the funnest wedding sequences ever, but The Second Marigold Hotel smartly connects its tale of young love and old wisdom as it crosscuts the wedding sequences with Muriel’s fond reflections. You’ll leave The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel feeling younger, wiser, and eager to book another stay.

Rating: ★★★½ (out of ★★★★★)

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is now playing in theatres across Canada from Fox Searchlight Pictures.

How did you like this visit to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel?