Rated PG. Running time: 2 hours 2 min.
Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 1; Language 2; Sex/Nudity 5.
Our star rating (1-5): 4
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
Seldom is a sequel as enjoyable as its predecessor, but Director John Madden and his screenwriter Ol Parker have done it, largely thanks to the dream cast of aging actresses and actors who are far from being “over the hill.” This is not “second best” at all, the film delighting the eye with the dazzling colors of the crowded streets of Jaipur, India, as well as the ear with the repartee among the characters who know the power of barbed words. In one exchange one of the grande dames tells the other that she is older than the other, and the other replies that it’s a mere 18 days, to which she replies, “The lifespan of a wasp.”
The film begins half way around the world from its main setting of India on a highway in the USA’s West, Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel), with his now co-manager Evelyn (Judi Dench) anxiously beside him, speeding along toward a meeting with Ty Burley (David Strathairn), the head of Evergreen, a US hotel company doing worldwide business. The Marigold is full except for one room, and so Sonny wants to buy a vacant hotel in Jaipur and name it “Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful.” He needs funds to be able to buy the place, hence the voyage to America to find a partner with big pockets.
Back in Jaipur when two somewhat younger than usual visitors check in, Lavinia (Tamsin Greig) and Guy (Richard Gere), the comedy of errors begins. Lavinia has already been assigned a room, when moments later Guy enters, claiming to be a writer seeking solitude so he can finish his novel. Sonny immediately jumps to the conclusion that Guy is the inspector sent by the hotel consortium to check on his operations. Thus he callously switches the lady into a barren room so that he can give his new guest the better rooms His constant fawning over Guy leaves us respecting him less and less—he even puts forth his widowed mother (Lillete Dubey) as a companion to Guy. His obsession with expanding the business causes him to neglect his prospective wife Sunaina (Tina Desai), at least until another young man wins the option to buy the vacant hotel—and the distraught Sonny suspects the rival has designs on Sunaina as well.
Interwoven into Sonny’s schemes are the continuing stories of the other occupants. Part of the gallows humor is Sonny’s going around at the beginning of each morning taking roll call, a precaution to make sure that no one has “checked out” during the night. Many of them have found jobs in Jaipur: Douglas (Bill Nighy) gives tours of sites about which he knows precious little so that he wears in his ear a small receiver to which a boy, armed with tour book, feeds him information; Madge (Celia Imrie) and Norman (Ronald Pickup) tend bar at a club frquented by ex-pats; Evelyn (Judi Dench) hunts for exotic fabrics and bcomes friends with the Indian accompanying her on her travels; and Muriel (Maggie Smith), as mentioned before, co-manages the establishment.
The various romances are embellished, with the addition of Richard Gere welcome, adding a touch of intercultural romance when he takes a genuine interest (and at first very one-sided) in Mr. Kapoor. He also learns a thing or two about old age, which in his early 60s he is approaching. He describes his book as about a man who is winding down things as he approaches the end of life. After spending time with the formidable residents of The Exotic Marigold Hotel he says that his book will be about beginning, not ending life. He has been enriched by those who relish new beginnings, facing the future with eagerness and relish. They too have grown, learning how precious each moment is in the face of there soon being no more. The strands are brought together is a gorgeous Hindi wedding ceremony that envelops virtually all of the characters in love. You will be glad to check back into virtually everyone’s favorite hotel, whether or not you are “Elderly and Beautiful.”