I watched The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel over the holidays with my parents and found it be a charmingly daffy mix of Fawlty Towers, Cocoon, and cheerful racism (India! So quaint!). The sequel, I can report, is more of the same. The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a charming piece of fluff, refreshingly not terrible, and a pleasant enough way to spend a couple hours. It’s also less racist, as the character of Sonny (Dev Patel) actually has a multi-faceted life in this one, preparing for his wedding and also trying to expand his business. And for a movie set in India, there are several more Indian characters—courtesy the wedding plot—and less white people walking around and going, “India! So quaint!”
There’s not much to say about the plot. Second Best suffers from sequelitis, as so many sequels do, in that it’s just more of the same. There’s Sonny’s wedding, and a mysterious newcomer to the hotel (Richard Gere), but otherwise it’s just a retread of the first film. Irascible Muriel (Maggie Smith) is still irascible, though writer Ol Parker dialed back on her latent racism and she’s helping Sonny with his business venture. Lovebirds Evelyn and Douglas (Judi Dench and Bill Nighy, respectively) are still enamored, though they remain unconsummated, and Madge (Celia Imrie), the sexy sexagenarian, is juggling lovers. There’s no real character development or evolution from how we knew these characters in the first movie, but the ensemble is so clearly having fun together that they overcome the script’s weaknesses on sheer presence alone.
This is not a deep movie—it’s even airier than its predecessor—but it’s nice to see topics like mortality and the romantic lives of retirees treated with a cynicism-free sense of fun. I sort of want to make a crack about the sex lives of senior citizens because I’m an asshole, but Second Best is such a sweet, harmless movie it feels mean. After all the garbage I’ve sat through so far this year, there’s a simple pleasure in watching this movie entertain with a light touch. And this ensemble is really, really fun to watch at work. I wish Gere had been integrated better—he’s only there to service a silly subplot—but this is a stellar ensemble piece. It kind of feels like the teacher’s lounge at Hogwarts.
Second Best is a pretty little movie that just wants to make you smile. It’s one step away from being tooth-rottingly sweet, but the ensemble cast is a joy and manages to elevate the saccharine material—somewhat. It’s still hella fluffy. If you liked the first one, you’ll most certainly like the sequel because it’s virtually the same movie. That doesn’t justify Second Best’s existence, but if Michael Bay gets to make four increasingly terrible Transformer movies, I think we can let John Madden’s travelogue indulgence slide. Later in the year, amid a stronger batch of movies at the theater, it wouldn’t register so pleasantly, but emerging from the chrysalis of sh*t that is winter movie season, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a welcome, refreshing treat.