The comma is not a typo. If you pause there before you say the rest, you’re clear in announcing the sequel, and not ‘The Second Best…’ for it’s not.
I’d say, it’s a little better maybe, funnier and more lively than the first. I can hear some protests. But in my case, kudos to the Bollywood dancers entertaining us before the movie began – two pairs of youthful and energetic Indian dancers giving us a taste of Bollywood – we were all warmed up and ready to embrace the show.
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is all about checking into new beginnings. In the last chapter, life can be beautiful and fulfilling, and one is never too late to enjoy it, even if they are merely ephemeral, fleeting moments. With the latent energy of the Marigold residents, they intend to make those precious moments last for the rest of their lives.
Director John Madden, who helmed Shakespeare in Love (1998) and saw it go on to win seven Oscars, brings us the sequel to his unexpected box office success of the first Marigold Hotel. This is no Shakespeare In Love, of course, but from the digital ink of screenwriter Ol Parker, we have some fine dialogues despite a lack of substantial plot lines; from the mouths of the seasoned and weathered come some refreshing viewpoints.
Even if you’re not starstruck, you have to tip your hat to this cast of talents, veteran actors whose average age works out to be 70; yes, I looked them up and did the math. Two-time Oscar winner Maggie Smith, Judi Dench (also Oscar winner and exactly 19 days older than Maggie in real life, as she said in the movie), Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Ronald Pickup, Celia Imrie, Diana Hardcastle, and this time around, the newly-aged and still handsome Richard Gere, with David Strathairn also playing a small role.
The young proprietor of the retirement hotel in Jaipur, India, Sonny Kapoor, is eagerly planning for an expansion of his business venture, a second Marigold Hotel. Performed with much animation by Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire fame, Sonny is basically the foil, not just in his youthfulness and agile Bollywood dance skills, but in his overacting. My query: why is his Indian accent thicker than his mother’s (Lillete Dubey)? Nevertheless, watching the threesome, the soon-to-be-married Sonny and Sunaina (Tina Desai) plus the odd addition of Kushal (Shazad Latif), is energizing and mood altering. In the last act, having the Marigold residents join in the Bollywood dance at the wedding party is a treat, an acquired taste for some viewers I admit.
Under the direction of DP Ben Smithard, we see some colourful street scenes and beautiful sights. Following the constant panning camera between pillars and doorways, we become silent observers of the lives of these Marigold residents.
Throughout the movie, I’ve jotted down a few fine lines which, if spoken by the inexperienced, could well become platitudes. But here delivered by these professionals of film and stage, the one-liners are spot-on and memorable. Everyone has a story and there are a few notable dialogues, like this between the eldest pair swept by clashing undercurrents:
Muriel (Maggie Smith): You’re just nineteen days older than I am.
Evelyn (Judi Dench): Nineteen days is the life span of a wasp.
Exactly, time is relative. Fact is, time is what these Marigold residents don’t have. That’s what makes each of their story so pressing. At 79, Evelyn is faced with the choice of accepting or declining a new career as well as a genuine but shy suitor, Douglas (Bill Nighy). Her feeling in a nutshell:
“Sometimes it seems the difference between what we want and what we fear is the width of an eyelash.”
Good that she realizes just in time, and it’s clever how she conveys her message to Douglas at Sonny’s wedding. So, her new insight after much pondering:
“I thought, how many new lives can we have? Then I thought, as many as we like.”
And for Norman (Ronald Pickup) and Carol (Diana Hardcastle), it’s never too late to change as we see love turn them from promiscuity to monogamy. Well, even a faint attempt is encouraging.
As for Madge (Celia Imrie), she finally decides which direction she should take, left, right, or straight ahead, probably for the first time in her life.
Who can laugh at the old but themselves? Here when Jean (Penelope Wilton) suddenly reappears at the Marigold, I can associate her role as the sharp-tongued Isobel Crawley in Downton Abbey:
“I couldn’t resist the opportunity to come out and visit the old ruins, and see how the hotel was doing too.”
As a self-appointed tour guide in Jaipur, Douglas knows it’s never too old to step out into uncharted territory. Some good laughs there with his little helper in the background feeding him info or he’ll be just as lost as his tourist clients. As well, he is experiencing love like an insecure young chap. This is my favourite line, not only for the words but the way Nighy says them can make your heart ache:
“The great and terrible thing about life is there’s just so much bloody potential.” The subtext is brilliantly conveyed by his obvious frustration and agitated demeanour.
Ah… “There is no present like the time” [sic, exactly]
Time is a gift and a torment when you’re only given a limited portion under the low-hanging clouds of mortality. Here’s the poignant scene at the end. It belongs to Muriel (Maggie Smith), could well be foreshadowing what we will see in Season 6 of Downton Abbey. Her voiceover is full of pathos:
“There is no such thing as an ending; just a place where you leave the story.”
Of course there are flaws in the movie. But just like wrinkles, you’ve come to overlook them while admiring the person. Call it an escape or a two-hour vacation, The Second, Best Exotic Hotel offers a fun and gratifying ride.
~ ~ ~ Ripples
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