Maggie Smith, Judi Dench and Bill Nighy are in top form as the wrinkled and wise long-staying residents of the pensioner’s paradise in the Rajasthan capital. Patel still buzzes around like a mosquito and still has the tone-deaf shop owner accent that might be funny in Goodness Gracious Me but grates in a movie. And Jaipur remains an Orientalist fantasy zone, where British nostalgia for a home away from home finally meets Bollywood.
The sequel groans with the weight of several sub-plots, the main one being the efforts of Sonny (Patel) and Muriel (Smith) to set up a branch to the hotel that they have come to regard as their home. Sonny suspects a visiting American, Guy (Richard Gere) of being The Guy who has been sent by a potential investor to secretly check out the property. Guy, however, only has eyes for Sonny’s mother, the frosty and hard-bitten Mrs Kapoor (Lillete Dubey).
Old is truly gold
For a movie about senior citizens, there is a lot of twisting under the sheets (suggested but never shown). Norman (Ronald Pickup) is keeping a close eye on girlfriend Carol (Diana Hardcastle), Guy is moving in on Mrs Kapoor hard and fast, Evelyn (Judi Dench) has a shot at a new life but it might mean sacrificing her tentative romance with Douglas (Bill Nighy), while Madge (Celia Imrie) can’t decide which of the two devoted Indian nobles she will choose.
Whoever said old age was uneventful?
Meanwhile, Sonny and fiancée Sunaina (Tena Desae) are going through pre-wedding jitters, for no other reason than to give the characters something to do in a movie that is clearly not about them.
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has as much depth as a cultural show put on for visiting tourists. It’s bright and meanderingly episodic with some well-written and sharply observed bits, all courtesy the silver-haired talent. The best lines are reserved for and owned by the golden oldies, with Maggie Smith, in particular, stealing the show with her acerbic put-downs and her gradually shifting demeanour that reveals the softness beneath the crusty exterior. Gere and Dubey crackle as an unlikely couple, but their potentially interesting track is drowned out in the general hubbub. The pensioners have settled down nicely for the second time round, and retirement finally beckons.
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