THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL is definitely second best–as most sequels are, but this cast and locale still manage to make the film a delightful, if passing, fancy. Richard Gere in the mix (yes, the hunk is getting on) adds an extra bit of spice. The old gang has returned, an elderly but colorful band of wandering misfits who have taken up permanent residence in the exotically shabby & sunny Marigold Hotel, right in the heart of India.
JUDI DENCH is the smart, sober Evelyn, MAGGIE SMITH, the curmudgeonly but wise Muriel, Bill Nighy dapper and sexy as Doug who’s still hot for Evelyn, Celia Imrie as Madge who’s hot for everyone; so is Diana Hardcastle as Carol, beloved of Ronald Pickup as her troubled inamorata Norman. The hotel is run by Sonny played by the hilarious Dev Patel whose exuberance is boundless, and whose wedding to the gorgeous Sunaina,Tina Desai, is imminent.
The plot unfolds like a Shakespearean roundelay of romantic revels with their pre-ordained couplings, and a business expansion in the works. Sonny heads to America with Muriel looking for financial backers to help launch the next jewel in his crown of exotic hotels. I wish this franchise really existed; little oases where those getting on, can literally get on with their final days in exotic environs and all manner of love and possibilities present themselves. But Sonny perceives a threat to his plans from his handsome cousin Kushal (Shazad Latif) who may also be making a play for Sonny’s bride to be.
Meanwhile Evelyn and Doug gingerly circle each other, holding back for fear of taking the leap; Carol and Ronald are navigating the tricky dynamics of monogamy, and Madge is torn between two wealthy lovers– until an unexpected third suitor subtly emerges…! By the time Richard Gere as the aptly named “Guy” shows up as a divorced writer embarking on his first novel, the pot is already at the boil. He does stir things up, however, when he takes an interest in Sonny’s cooly beautiful, widowed mother, Lillete Dubey, who hasn’t had a date in years.
OK. There are surely too many scattered strands of plot, not very believably developed or knit together. BUT here’s what I loved. I loved that these mature characters are seen as full-fledged sentient beings with sexual lives and romantic inclinations. When was the last time any of us saw elderly romance on the big screen accorded serious respect, when it wasn’t seen as either tragic, a joke, or just plain absurd? I loved that one of these characters is even considering a new job offer! I loved the saturated color and languorous rhythm of Rajasthan where the film was shot. I loved that this film looks at life and is not afraid to make jokes about, well, death; who knows ? I loved that in this exotic transient world anything still seems possible.
This isn’t a GREAT film, and this cast and its characters with all the tropes of their talent & experience deserve a GREAT film. For now, I’ll settle for this trifle, and its jubilant Bollywood ending. But not for long; this generation is getting larger, staying around longer–and we want MORE! Life it Better after 50 after all.