The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
In the opening scene of this long-awaited sequel to one of the most popular “grey dollar” movies of all time, a Californian valet cheerily compliments Mrs Donnelly (Maggie Smith)’s South London accent and asks “Are you from Australia??” From that moment, I was sold.
It’s four years (in real time) since the pantheon of British acting descended upon Jaipur to earn their retirement money and produce the effervescent smash-hit that was The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Audiences flocked to see Smith (playing delightfully against Dowager Grantham type, though her turn as “Ray Winstone’s mum” is sometimes a little hard to believe), Dame Judi Dench, Penelope Wilton, Bill Nighy and Tom Wilkinson age gracefully and wittily, while Dev Patel (then a newly established star thanks to Slumdog Millionaire) pizzazzed across the screen as their over-eager young Indian hotelier.
Years later, the crew are still living at the Marigold (a daily roll-call is taken to ensure no one has “checked out” during the night) and Sonny is set to marry his beloved. However, wedding planning is overshadowed by his efforts to secure a new, improved site for the titular hotel – a place where Mrs Donnelly and her ilk can live happily until “the ultimate checkout” to the hotel in the sky. Naturally, the course of true entrepreneurship does not run smooth, and while new relationships burgeon in the old folks’ home, others are put to the test.
Patel is, as ever, over-the-top and yet completely wonderful, his energy and whipsmart delivery of lines and facial expressions a terrific foil to the enjoyably vinegar-faced Smith. The seniors have now become locals in Jaipur and interact delightfully with the Indian cast (one man’s patronising will be another’s cute), and new guest Richard Gere.
As usual, the setting is a character in itself, the vibrant colours, soundtrack and the city’s inherent energy the perfect backdrop for an assortment of rather juicy and not entirely frivolous subplots. With solid, if predictable, performances all round, and a funny, good-natured script, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel ranks higher than its predecessor.