Saturday, March 21, 2015
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has a curious problem. This sequel to the popular 2012 film - which grossed $136 million worldwide on a budget of $10 million - has no reason to exist except to create a franchise where Hollywood didn’t know there was an audience. The thought of studios rushing to make films for underserved moviegoers leads to a sort of utopian vision of female, gay, elderly, African-American, Hispanic, and other themed projects filling the multiplex, until we come crashing back to earth with the thought that a significant number of these films would be just as bad as the ones we have now. I would like to be able to report that the pleasure of the company of Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, and the rest of the returning cast is enough to make this Marigold go down smoothly, but this unexpected sequel is undone by the same lack of purpose that pervades so many better-known second tries.
When we find Marigold Hotel entrepreneur Sonny (Dev Patel) and manager Mrs. Donnelly (Smith), they are in California seeking funding to expand the Marigold name. Sonny has his eye on a second location, but his attention his also consumed with his impending marriage to Sunaina (Tina Desai). A word about Dev Patel, who is much the most irritating thing about this film: I’ve seen Macy’s Thanksgiving balloons give subtler performances than Patel gives here, but since the plot is driven to a large degree by Sonny’s screw-ups I can’t really blame Patel for committing to the role. One of the many storylines in play involves a character played by Richard Gere (who seems a little surprised to be here) as a man who may be concealing his identity as a hotel inspector. Gere’s character is smitten by Sonny’s mother (underused Lillete Dubey), but instead of spending time with them we’re stuck watching Judi Dench and Bill Nighy finding excuses not to be together. If you thought Dench’s widow and Nighy’s freshly ditched husband got together at the end of the first Marigold, then remember: if they had then this film would be 30 minutes shorter. Thank goodness for good old British diffidence, and for the fact that both Dench and Nighy are masters at wringing the maximum effect out of the most economical acting choices. There are other subplots involving characters played by Celia Imrie (who gets the “White Person being kind to Indian” scene), Ronald Pickup, and Diana Hardcastle that are mostly filler, since Ol Parker’s script is more concerned with whether or not Sonny’s jealousy of a business rival (Shazad Latif) will derail his wedding.
To the extent that anything saves these proceedings, they are saved by the indomitable spirit of Maggie Smith as Mrs. Donnelly. We don’t know how much time Mrs. Donnelly has left but Smith does, and she fills every moment (in a film that doesn’t really have time for her abilities) with a humanity that eschews cheap comedy or easy sentiment. Mrs. Donnelly carries the message of Marigold, that life is full of surprises and every moment must be savored. I didn’t really understand how Sonny earns what happens at the end of Marigold (though it is a stunning blow against colonialism), but I perfectly understood the film’s last shot: Mrs. Donnelly in medium close-up, full of both resignation and excitement.