While certainly not revolutionary in content The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has the advantage of boasting some of the world’s most renowned acting talents: Dames Maggi Smith and Judi Dench are joined by Bill Nighy, Richard Gere, Celia Imrie and the star of Slumdog Millionaire, Dev Patel in a playful romp through the delights of old age.
The story itself follows a remarkably predictable arc: seven British seniors choose to uproot themselves from the familial ties and old blighty and settle in a retirement home in the crown jewel of the British Empire. Sonny Kapoor (played with indomitable spirit by Dev Patel) is the over enthusiastic proprietor of a somewhat shabby chic ramshackle establishment known as the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Luckily thanks to his co-manager Muriel (Maggie Smith) and the eclectic group of guests who are drawn to this final resting place in Jaipur, his dreams of expansion and marriage might actually manifest.
Smith herself is a star in her own right. Acerbic and quick-witted despite her mature years she chastises, scrutinizes and leads her coterie with the grace of a duchess – even if this is no Downtown Abbey. Judi Dench and Bill Nighy are tepid lovers unsure whether there is promise over rendezvous with chilli pancakes and Celia Imrie is a lady with many lovers (and a penchant for watering down quality wine) who hasn’t quite decided if any man is satisfactory. And Ronald Pickup and Diana Hardcastle are like two ships who pass in the night struggling to overcome philandering tendencies whilst unsure of each other’s fidelity. Add into the mix two hotel inspectors, Richard Gere and Tasmin Greig, one of whom is certain to be an influential factor in deciding upon the fate of Sonny’s dreams of expansion and a high energy traditional Indian wedding, and you have the perfect recipe for a colourful thali sized serving of your favourites.
But the fact remains that it is a staple offering that relies on its stellar cast to forgive the somewhat dubious narrative arcs and oozing clichés that seep through the cracks. The multiple vignettes resemble a slightly better version of Love Actually and the setting is perhaps one of the major draw cards set against pink palaces of Jaipur with a quick detour to Mumbai. There are some interesting exchanges, genuine moments of warmth and although the conclusions tend to be more along the lines of a Disney ending (even Smith achieves an unlikely epiphany which is a credit to her acting talent) it is nevertheless replete with clichés. Patel’s character is quixotic but harried, ruminating out loud old fashioned truisms as he darts between the demands of his upcoming marriage (including dealing with his fiancée’s fondness for her wedding choreographer) and his attempts to placate his guests. It is an almost an embarrassing performance that he just manages to save from completely drowning in caricature and is perhaps off-set only by Richard’s Gere’s equally one-note performance as the shy retired novelist who is mesmerized by withdrawn beauty of Mrs. Kapoor.
The quaint but affirmative mantra that Sonny chants, “Everything will be alright in the end. And if it’s not alright, it’s not the end” is the compass that charts the twilight hours of the ‘beautiful and elderly’ who have come to live out the remainder of their days in this slightly grandiose version of a BnB. And while Ol Parker’s screenplay may not be brilliant or incredibly stimulating it is perfectly palatable platform for John Madden to have a ball with some of the best of British veteran performers – and pull of a few nice cinematography sequences too.
A tad too long and perhaps bit too sweet but like the gulab jamun desserts are an indulgence – no matter what our age.