Second-rate film, first-class characters
Towards the end of The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a secret inspector is asked for an honest assessment of Jaipur’s luxury development for residents in their golden years.
The inspector concludes that behind the scenes, management of the hotel is shambolic but unerring affection for the staff makes it a four-star destination for “the elderly and beautiful”.
The same honest appraisal applies to John Madden’s entertaining sequel: Ol Parker’s script is haphazard and several plot strands are flimsy but our emotional investment in the characters papers over the cracks.
Audiences who check in to this second chapter will be treated to the same pungent Jaipur backdrops and good-humoured service, with a fresh lick of dramatic paint courtesy of new arrivals, played with easy-going charm by Tamsin Greig and Richard Gere.
The dashing star of American Gigolo and Pretty Woman takes on sex symbol status here, causing groom-to-be Sonny (Dev Patel) to quip: “The man is so handsome, he has me urgently questioning my own sexuality.”
At 65 years old, Gere evidently still has it.
While the first film was lovingly adapted from Deborah Moggach’s novel These Foolish Things, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel tumbles straight out of the scriptwriter Parker’s imagination.
He struggles to provide each resident with a compelling narrative arc: some are surplus to requirements while others relish the trials and tribulations that test fledgling romances and fractious friendships to breaking point.
Sonny and business partner Muriel (Maggie Smith) travel abroad to seek investment for a second hotel from business chief Ty Burley (David Strathairn) and return to India, mindful that funding is dependent on a review from a secret inspector.
“How was America?” asks Evelyn (Judi Dench), welcoming them home.
“It made death more tempting,” retorts Muriel.
English traveller Lavinia (Greig) and American novelist Guy (Gere) arrive soon after and Sonny is convinced that Guy must be the inspector so he ignores Lavinia and lavishes attention on the writer.
Guy’s arrival sends Madge (Celia Imrie) into a swoon – “Lordy lord, have mercy on my ovaries!” she swoons – while Douglas (Bill Nighy) struggles to communicate his feelings to Evelyn.
Meanwhile, Sonny is pre-occupied with his impending nuptials to Sunaina (Tina Desai) and a simmering rivalry for his fiancee’s affections from snake-hipped family friend Kush (Shazad Latif).
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel delivers the same winning formula of laughter and tears, eliciting strong performances from Dench, Nighy and Smith at her acid-tongued, indomitable best.
The course of true love, even in twilight years, never runs smooth and Parker composes variations on a theme of amour, while peppering his script with pithy one-liners.
“There is no present like the time,” professes one wise soul.
Madden’s film is certainly a gift: you get everything you expect but nothing more.
Star rating: 7/10