The clash of cultures has been rubbed off the marigolds in “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” Most of the characters are back — those who didn’t die off — in this sequel comedy about British retirees lured to India where their money goes further and the elderly are generally revered rather than cast aside. But they’ve all turned so nice.
Maggie Smith’s once racist retired maid has become the sweet mouthpiece for Exotic Marigold Hotel operator Sonny (Dev Patel) as they pitch their idea of outsourced old folks’ homes to an American conglomerate (David Strathhairn is the CEO).
Gentle Douglas (Bill Nighy) is finally rid of his shrew of a wife (Penelope Wilton). But he still hasn’t the nerve to confess his love for Evelyn (Judi Dench). Madge (Celia Imrie) is still flirting and dating with a mercenary eye toward being taken care of; Carol (Diana Hardcastle) is still carrying on with Norman (Ronald Pickup) at The Viceroy ex-pats club, though Norman has been thinking about commitment.
But the artifice shows, the cuteness strains to not become overbearing in this sequel, an overlong film filled to the rim with pithy advice from the elders.
“The distance between what we want and what we fear is the width of an eyelash.”
“You only make progress when you stick your neck out.”
That’s what Sonny is doing, sticking his neck out. He needs backing to buy a bankrupt second hotel, allowing him to expand. He is closing in on his long-planned wedding to Sunaina (Tina Desai). But a dashing, rich friend (Shazad Latif) of her brother’s is thwarting him at every turn. Sonny needs to impress someone the Americans have sent to inspect his operation. And Sonny is sure this secret inspector is the “writer” who checks in. He’s played by Indo-phile Richard Gere, which is probably why this writer immediately sets his cap for Sonny’s mom (Lillete Dubey).
The film is all contrivances, as Norman worries that he’s accidentally put out a hit on Carol with a confused tuk tuk (auto-rickshaw) driver, Sonny “pimps out” his mother, and mistaken identities worthy of farce, but not that funny, are introduced.
The pall of death is cast aside for this sequel, as Evelyn considers a late-life career as a textile buyer, and Douglas, Madge and others keep their eyes on the future — future love, future security and the like.
Director John Madden and his crew make India alluring, scrubbing any hint of squalor from Jaipur, and filming in the cooler months. Nobody sweats.
That means that this time, this “Exotic” hotel is more a place to check into briefly, in passing, and not the sort of place you’d want to lose yourself in.