No one wants to be deemed second-best, yet there it is, right in the title of the film:
“The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”
Not the intention, I’m sure – but the result, nonetheless, when you succumb to sequel-itis: Let’s take this delightful little surprise hit and try to duplicate its success without doing anything original.
It’s like a printer running low on toner, making fainter and fainter copies. (I was going to say “carbon paper” but realized what an antiquated reference that is.) You can still see the outline of what they’re going for, but the details are a lot fuzzier.
The original 2012 film was about a rundown residence hotel in Jaipur, India, that markets itself as the sunny, inexpensive retirement alternative to British pensioners. A group of retired strangers meet there and bond, thanks to a fish-out-of-water experience in an exotic clime.
Having lost the element of surprise, writer Ol Parker falls back on the trope of adorably dotty seniors having an adventure. Look – they’re in love but are too shy to tell each other. Adorable! Oh, the randy old guy who tomcatted around in the first film thinks his new steady is cheating on him. Fun! And the cranky old gal still has a soft spot for the hotel’s impetuous young owner. Sweet!
Still, the same melancholy undertone remains: While no one dies in this film as they did in the first, death is still the obvious end-game for these characters, sooner rather than later. It’s a retirement community and, like restaurants, their business model is built on turnover.
The cast is largely the same: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Dev Patel. Throw in Richard Gere and Tamsin Grieg and a subplot about hotel inspectors and you have it all.
The first film was a tasty and touching little comedy with heart. But despite the fact that both films were directed by veteran John Madden, the twinkle and color of the first film seem flat and denatured the second time around.