by Hiko Mitsuzuka
Simply put, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was my favorite film of 2012. The sleeper hit was a wondrous journey, an enchanting look at a group of pensioners leaving their homes behind to settle into the "third act" of their lives on the other side of the world. Director John Madden's gorgeous travelogue was also a rarity, a film that beautifully spoke to a certain generation, tapping into the fears and insecurities of Baby Boomers as they try to discover ways to establish a new lease on life.
So, what else can be said and done with a follow-up to such a singularly magical story? Apparently, not much.
The sequel is faced with the difficult task of prolonging a story that feels like it had sufficiently ended with a satisfying, closing chapter three years ago. But no, it appears that someone (at Fox Searchlight perhaps?) thought there was more to tell.
And "more" means focusing more on Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel), the earnest owner of the property who has dreams of branching out his brand -- and marrying his girlfriend in a hitch-free ceremony. However, throughout most of the film, I wasn't sure if I was watching the Indian version of Father of the Bride or an AARP-sponsored version of Melrose Place.
Yes, the original cast returns in fine form (truthfully, I'd watch Judi Dench and Maggie Smith in just about anything), and it's wonderful to see the old gang again, but like most reunions, the anticipation and build-up far outshines the actual event. A second visit to this Exotic Marigold Hotel is, unfortunately, an anticlimactic one.
Perhaps it's because most of the beloved characters from the first film have now been given storylines that feel more forced than inspired. Douglas (Bill Nighy) doesn't know what to do with his feelings for Evelyn (Dench). Norman (Ronald Pickup) thinks he has accidentally put a hit on the woman he thinks is his girlfriend (the exquisite Diana Hardcastle). And Madge (Celia Imrie) bounces back and forth between two rich suitors and spends most of the film sitting in the backseat of her personal limo service, staring pensively out the window.
Richard Gere and Tamsin Grieg (Episodes) are the new faces in the crowd; he's a writer looking for some inspiration, and she's feeling out the hotel for her aging mother. And while Gere does provide some much-needed sizzle for the Metamucil set -- at the screening I attended, several women of a certain age let out a collective, audible "Ooh" -- his storyline turns out the be the most uneventful rom-com ever.
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel can feed the audience as many philosophical nuggets as it wants while wooing them with its exotic locale, but this time around, everything comes out a bit flat. The further the movie went, the more I realized how unnecessary the whole affair is.
But it sure knows how to tug at this writer's heartstrings. Even though much of it rang hollow, the film winds down packing a nice emotional punch as one character comes to terms with her fate. It's a shame the rest of the movie wasn't as graceful as its exit.
RATING: 3/5 stars