Sequels are so often disasters or, at least, strained attempts to eke out all the best bits of the first success and awkwardly turn them into a wholly new film. The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has the potential to do just that.
Following on from the 2012 comedy-drama hit, the film is still set against the same backdrop (a gloriously ramschackle hotel in Jaipur), with the same set of amalgamated pensioner guests. However, there is now a twist. The ever-energetic, over-enthusiastic manager Sonny (played with goggle-eyed comedic timing by Dev Patel) has grand visions to expand the hotel into a large scale enterprise, and a US retirement home business might invest. Cue the arrival of two new guests, one of whom Sonny takes to be the potential investor. What follows is a confusion of sub-plots and anti-climaxes; at times it comes close to turning into a mini soap-opera-come-Bollywood homage (Sonny’s wedding dance classes become a feature in themselves), and Richard Gere’s ‘heart-throb’ addition just comes across as sleazy against the eccentricities of the rest of the cast.
However, the cinematography is beautiful, with wide, open seascapes of colour and enough soft, sunset-dappled scenes to make you want to jump on the next plane to Jaipur.
There is no pretence to this film; it’s a comedy not a social critique of British expats and culture-clash clichés. Yes, it’s silly and sentimental and sugar-coated, but it is also surprisingly moving, which might have something to do with the powerhouse of formidable, scene-stealing actors. Endearing isn’t a word normally associated with Bill Nighy, but his shy and guileless attempts to woo Judi Dench’s Evenlyn are just that, whilst he simultaneously maintains his debonair, spy-like sophistication. Meanwhile, a cockney-tongued, tea and biscuit loving Maggie Smith delivers her pithy one liners with the perfect balance of disinterest and sardonic disdain. But really, this film is a feel-good watch which leaves you smiling. And you don’t need a pension-badge and hearing aid to qualify.