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Film Review: The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

March 4, 2015

A review of the Dev Patel sequel about a retirement coummunity for ex-pats in India.

 

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Director: John Madden Starring: Dev Patel, Tena Desae, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Richard Gere, Ronald Pickup, Celie Imrie, Lillete Dubey, Diana Hardcastle, David Strathairn, Shazad Latif)

It’s not often that a sequel comes close to meeting the expectations set by its predecessor. Even rarer is a non-action non-super hero film garnering the critical and commercial success required to even warrant such a sequel. I think we can all agree that it’s more likely that a film like “Transformers” gets another sequel than a film like “Whiplash” or “Birdman.”

 

“The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” bucked the franchise trend, and came into being after the first installment achieved worldwide acclaim and grossed nearly $137 million worldwide against a paltry $10 million budget. If you were a fan of the first film, you will enjoy the sequel.

 

I had the pleasure of attending the movie’s Chicago premiere on March 2nd at the ShowPlace ICON Theatre and below is my review of the film.

 

Plot

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel begins not long after the conclusion of the first. The beloved elders that stole our hearts pick up right where they left off while Dev Patel’s “Sonny” aims to capitalize on his hotel’s success and expand the footprint of his vision to “outsource old age.”

 

The film opens with Sonny and Maggie Smith’s “Ms. Donnelly” as they meet with David Strathairn’s “Ty Burley.” Burley is the head of Evergreen, a US-based firm interested in expanding its corporate reach to India and beyond.

In short, the film follows a few major plotlines:

  • Sonny’s endeavors to expand his hotel and win the approval of Evergreen as a corporate partner

  • The identity of Evergreen’s undercover hotel investigator sent by Burley to evaluate Sonny’s operations

  • The future of the previously established relationships between Judi Dench (Ms. Greenslade) and Bill Nighy (Mr. Ainslie), Ronald Pickup (Norman) and Diana Hardcastle (Carol), and Dev Patel (Sonny) and Tena Desae (Sunaina)

  • The new relationship between Richard Gere (Guy Chambers) and Lillete Dubey (Mrs. Kapoor)

  • The introduction of Tamsin Greig (Lavinia Beach) and Shazad Latif (Kushal) who are brought on to stir the plot lines of the other characters

In addition to the aforementioned, the film also reintroduces the character “Mrs. Ainslie,” and follows “Miss Hardcastle” on her romantic exploits.

 

The Good

You will be hard-pressed to find projects with a better cast. The sheer amount of talent that is on screen at any given moment in the film is quite impressive. Richard Gere, Tamsin Greig (you might know her from the hit show “Episodes”), and David Strathairn only add to the already star-studded and highly decorated ensemble cast. Strathairn, in my mind, will forever be “Eddie Cicotte” from the film “Eight Men Out,” but his filmography is filled with high profile projects, including “The Firm,” “A League of Their Own,” “Good Night and Good Luck,” and “The Bourne Ultimatum.” The cast’s depth and talent is showcased through the well-timed humorous and emotional delivery of the script. The first 30 minutes of the film were filled with levity and the audience at the premiere was often heard collectively laughing for much of the film’s first act.

 

Maggie Smith is brilliant as always, and the audience cannot help but become emotionally attached to her character as the film progresses. The lovely and talented Tena Desae has more runway in this film and she certainly holds her own.

 

The sequel, like the first, is filled with heart, warmth, life lessons, and pearls of wisdoms that will stay with you beyond the closing credits. “There’s no present like the time” is a sentiment that will resonate with the audience both during and long after the experience of the film is over.

 

The Not So Good

Unfortunately, the sequel falls short of the first film’s lofty heights on many levels:

 

First and foremost, the presence of Tom Wilkinson’s “Graham Dashwood” was so profound in the first film that his absence is noticeable in the sequel. As I watched the familiar settings of Sonny’s hotel, I missed the man who was, in so many ways, the center of the first film.

 

I also found myself missing the Mrs. Greenslade of the first film. In the original, Judi Dench’s character embodied hope and optimism, yet she lacks these qualities in the sequel, where her character seems constrained by feelings of insecurity, apprehension, and fear. Fortunately, Maggie Smith’s character manages to pick up the baton and carry the load.

 

Dev Patel delivers a performance filled with range and depth yet also overacts in the simplest of scenes. While Patel is good in this film, his performance may have been better in the first. In general, I enjoy Patel’s work, I truly do. His run as Neal Sampat on “the Newsroom” was natural, intelligent, and modern….I was a big fan. However, as the 2015 version of Sonny, Patel over exaggerates his accent and idiosyncrasies to an unnecessary level beyond his performance in the first, which was disappointing. Patel recovers beautifully in scenes where Sonny experiences wide-ranging emotions that do add a dimension to Sonny not present in the first film.

 

Richard Gere’s performance is very bland in this film, though he looks as he hasn’t aged a day since “The Runaway Bride.”

 

Furthermore, while the 2015 film gives Lillete Dubey more screen time, it does not make full use of her wonderful talents. Ms. Dubey is brilliant with the material that she’s given in the film, but anyone who has seen her in other Bollywood projects knows that the character of Mrs. Kapoor could have been and should have been much more 3-dimensional. The fact that Mrs. Kapoor’s romance with Richard Gere’s character plays out so fast and easy was not very believable. Ms. Dubey played the role well, I just wish they gave her more complexity to work with.

 

Overall, where the sequel begins to fall short from its predecessor is in its second act. There the storyline meanders and gets away from itself to a level beyond reason. Gere’s instant relationship with Sonny’s mother was something out of a Bollywood film. Miss Hardcastle’s instant bond with her driver had a similar feeling. The character of Miss Lavinia Beach is both underutilized and yet overly unnecessary. The character of Kushal is underdeveloped, overexposed, and portrayed in a manner that inspires little more than indifference from the audience.

 

The Bottom-Line

Given the content of the “Not So Good” section above you might wonder how I could be a fan of this film. The answer is simple if not contradictory…sometimes the parts are greater than the sum. The actors are brilliant and the characters remain endearing. The film is filled with warmth, heart, and humor, and many aspects of the well written dialogue will have you pondering the meaning of life as well as the value of relationships for days after you’ve seen the movie.

 

While there are several plot holes and the film as a stand-alone movie is mediocre, the individual performers, their beloved characters, and the emotional connection you’ll feel to certain specific moments in the film (especially those that involve Maggie Smith) make up for what the overall picture lacks.

 

I rate the film a 7.5 out of 10. Whether you agree, disagree, feel free to comment on this review with your feedback. I enjoy hearing what you all think, even if you think I’m wrong!

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