The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel picks up where the first film left off with Sonny (Patel) and Mrs Donnelly (Smith) running the hotel – only they are now so full that they have to expand, and to do so they need investment from an American company that specialise in hotels for the aged. However, the investors need to send in an undercover inspector to assess the hotel before committing any money, and when American guest Guy (Gere) turns up, Sonny thinks he is the one. Plus, Sonny is also trying to plan a wedding with Sunaina (Desai), while getting increasingly perturbed by the involvement of local heartthrob and potential love rival Kushal, alienating his bride-to-be in the process. Meanwhile, Douglas (Nighy) and Evelyn (Dench) wrestle with their feelings for each other, and Madge (Imrie) deliberates over a future husband, and Norman (Pickup) worries he’s accidentally taken out a hit on girlfriend Carol (Hardcastle).
The tone and balance of The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is perhaps the film’s biggest strength. Much like its forerunner, there is sweetness and a light airy feel to the film with humour and sentimentality going hand in hand. Patel brings a manic energy to Sonny, while the dry, blunt nature of Mrs Donnelly makes for a lovely counterpoint to the other characters. There’s nothing shocking or unexpected from the characters that so many paying punters fell in love with in the first film, but that plays to the film's strengths and helps to ram home the idea that the characters haven’t so much gone to this place to die, but to begin a new life. Gere also puts in an excellent turn as the mysterious Guy, bringing a real sense of presence to everything he’s involved in.
However, as with most sequels there are some problems with The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel that means it can’t quite match up to its predecessor. The subplots don’t all feel strictly necessary, and given that it clocks in at a cool two hours, it seems like there was room to trim some of the fat. Madge’s search for a husband seems like a hugely unnecessary distraction, while the Dev/Kushal rivalry just fizzles out without any major resolution. These are not huge problems, but when married up with the overly convenient way the loose ends are tied up during the finale, it feels somewhat drawn out. That being said, there is a phenomenal dance sequence at the end, so it’s difficult to complain too much.
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is an enjoyable film, with some nice light humour, and a sweetness and charm that helps to gloss over the potential shortcomings in the script. The film has a surprisingly apt name, as it’s certainly second best to the original, but a fine film to while away a Sunday evening.