The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Alas, here is a feel-good sequel if nothing else--- a visual mango lassi for the eyes. I'm speaking of "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," the second chapter to director John Madden's sleeper hit that charmed and beguiled audiences, featuring some quirky folks in India mostly fretting about Merry Olde England.
The first outing had a sneaky freshness and a haunt that hung beneath the pop art visuals. The characters possessed longing and mystery and something of the feeling of being a stranger. Sometimes they waited and sighed and groped about listlessly or laughed in claps. Above all else under the trappings of a romantic comedy, there was a quality of the unexpected.
Now here, the setting is very much the same but the vermilion punch is diluted. Yes, the gang is all here yet it all seems a bit sedate and soporific.
Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith) is well ensconced, having a new role as advisor to Sonny (Dev Patel) and his beloved hotel. Surprise surprise, Sonny wants to expand with Mrs. Donnelly coming along. They head out to California to talk to a venture capital exec (David Strathairn) about financing.
It isn't that the sequel is so much of a turkey, it is just more akin to tofu. Where before there was a kind of tension underneath the saffron and sizzle now there is only soup drama and silliness. The pensive qualities that an actor like Tom Wilkinson gave to the first story have vanished now. There are several subplots with all of them sounding the same beat of the tabla.
Sonny is behind the desk, bubbling over and uptight. Judi Dench's Evelyn is also here, now happily working in textiles. There is some drama afoot with Sonny wanting to expand while a romantic rival Kushal (Shazad Latif) buys a property out from under him. Norman Cousins (Ronald Pickup) appears as well, once again so worried about women. One Guy Chambers, a laconic and somewhat passive American arrives (Richard Gere). The regulars are curiously taken by him, in spite of his bemused, and slightly tickled, self satisfied expression that never changes. Is this Guy a con, a writer, or a laughing buddha? Whatever the case, he carries his faux pas with ease (especially when he participates in a Bollywood dance), invariably a calm silver fox throughout.
All this worry and fret about relationships and romantic oneupmanship reduces every act to clarified ghee and every face feels like a cameo. There is so much coming and going, adding to little than more than a sparkle. Maggie Smith does have the best grouch lines leaving many of the other quips sounding confined and formulaic.
One wonderful exception however is the cinematography by Ben Smithard which transforms the scenes of The Marigold into a masterful Rajput miniature from the 18th Century. The colors vibrate and thrive into the very pulse of a pomegranate. The wedding scene alone is threaded with the prismatic blood of a peacock and such rich and sumptuous colors almost give the film its saving grace.
For the most part though, "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" is another go around of a Shangri-La in Septuagenaria and it proved a richer, thoughtful and more punchy karmic comedy in its earlier form.
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