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Family Movie Review: The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (PG)

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MPAA Rating: PG         Length: 122 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 12+. The sequel to the 2012 original continues the same themes as its predecessor, examining life-after-retirement for a group of British and American expats who have resettled in India. Lots of wine drinking and some silly drunkenness; some kissing and sexually themed jokes; and some cursing.

The 2012 sleeper hit, ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,’ gets a sequel that is slightly less charming and slightly more melodramatic, but still an enjoyable romp. The cast here, shining with Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, and Bill Nighy, is once again the formula for success.

By Roxana Hadadi

It’s easy to look back on 2012’s “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” fondly. The film about British retirees settling in Jaipur, India and embarking on a new chapter of their lives was charming and open-hearted, mostly thanks to strong performances from Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, and the rest of the senior-citizen cast. The film ended a bit too tidily (with a racism subplot fizzling out somewhat unbelievably), but it was mostly a lovely, unpretentious time. So it’s nice that “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” similarly goes down easy, even if it’s certainly more obviously and tiringly melodramatic than its predecessor.

Set eight months after the original ended, “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” reunites practically everyone from the original, all of whom decided to retire in India for financial reasons and live in the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful. Once-sheltered housewife Evelyn (Dench, of “Philomena”) is fully coming into her own while working with textile exports. Former government employee Douglas (Nighy, of “I, Frankenstein”) is now a tour guide and formally separated from his toxic, biting wife Jean (Penelope Wilton, of “Belle”), so he’s gently pursuing Evelyn. And one-time nanny Muriel (Smith, of “My Old Lady”) is officially co-manager of the hotel with owner Sonny (Dev Patel, of “The Last Airbender”), who is looking to expand the hotel by buying another property. Business is booming, so why not?

Well, there are a few issues. Sonny is engaged to be married to the beautiful Sunaina (Tina Desai), but he’s worried his best friend might be pursuing her behind his back, and he’s conflicted between whether he should be spending more time at the hotel or more time with her. And on the business side, the American company that has agreed to fund their expansion will only do so after they receive a report on the business from an anonymous inspector, who will spend time in the hotel and then report back. So when the American Guy (Richard Gere) shows up at the hotel, they’re convinced that he’s the guest who holds the future of their business in their hands—leading to even greater manic behavior from Sonny.

There are other subplots, too—notorious womanizer Norman (Ronald Pickup) is struggling with monogamy; flirtatious Madge (Celia Imrie) is trying to choose between two equally rich and interested boyfriends—and for the most part director John Madden (of “The Debt”) and screenwriter Ol Parker (who also wrote the first “Marigold Hotel”) treat the film like a series of vignettes or short stories, checking in with each person every so often. The narration has switched from Evelyn’s perspective to Muriel’s, which makes sense because she has come the furthest as a character, but the best moments in the film come when characters break out of their own storylines and journey into each others’. Evelyn and Muriel gently sparring with each other? Yes! Guy embarking on a romance with Sonny’s mother? Fine! As much as the film follows its predecessor’s formula, it’s a familiar, comfortable thing.

That’s partially why the added melodrama seems so misplaced, especially with Sonny, who takes up a surprising amount of screentime fretting about his upcoming nuptials. And the jokes, so often sexually focused, do feel a bit forced at times (especially when Norman thinks that by overtipping his cab driver, he’s solicited him to kill his girlfriend).

But then Smith unleashes a zinger (“Just because I’m looking at you when you talk, don’t think I’m listening or even interested”), and then there’s a major Bollywood-inspired dance number (two, in fact, which allow Gere to shine), and then Dench and Nighy look at each other in that particular way, and it’s difficult to judge “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” too harshly. It’s a gentle, affectionate film, one that looks kindly upon everyone and provides a second chance to anyone who asks. If only more things in life were this pleasant.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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