The Marigold Hotel of the first film, much like the film itself, was flawed in many ways, yet carried with it a charm and uniqueness that enabled both its residents and the viewing audience to happily overlook those flaws in order to embrace it. Unfortunately, "second best" is a wholly appropriate description for the sequel.
[The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel](movie:709381) offers up the same dynamic cast from the first film, with Dev Patel reprising his role as ambitious young hotel owner Sonny Kapoor with Dame Maggie Smith returning as co-manager Muriel Donnelly. The film opens with the two of them in America on their way to San Diego, the oddest couple to ever road trip. They are on their way to meet with a hotel group to discuss potential investment into a second hotel. The premise is flimsy, but Patel's youthful exuberance played against Smith's growling cynicism elicits, if not belly laughs, then at least some quiet chuckles.
Unfortunately, the other storylines in the film don't work as well, primarily because there are far too many of them. An executive from the hotel group (a criminally underused David Strathairn) promises to send an undercover secret shopper type to assess both the property and management. When newcomers Lavinia Beech (Tamsin Greig) and Guy Chambers (Richard Gere) show up to the property, Sonny starts lavishing attention on Chambers, whom Sonny suspects is the incognito guest.
Meanwhile, Sonny's fianceé, Sunaina (Tina Desai) is busy planning for their wedding. She asks a handsome friend of the couple, Kushal (Shazad Latif), to be her dance partner in Sonny's absence so she can practice the dance routine she wants to perform at their wedding. But even upon Sonny's return, it's hinted that this friend could be a rival, both romantically and professionally.
Meanwhile #2, Evelyn (Dame Judi Dench) and Doug's (Bill Nighy) will-they/won't-they storyline from the first film carries over, with Doug, now working as a tour guide, wanting to marry Evelyn, whose career as a fabric buyer is taking off. However, he's not quite divorced from estranged wife Jean (Penelope Wilton) and his fear holds him back.
Meanwhile #3-7, Jean returns to create more problems with her own brand of negativity; husband hunting Madge (Celia Imrie) is torn between suitors; Guy falls for Sonny's widowed mother (Lillete Dubey); Norman (Ronald Pickup) and Carol (Diana Hardcastle) suffer their own romantic mishaps. Oh, and a a crazed tuk-tuk driver repeatedly attempts to run over Carol.
British filmmakers have seemingly perfected the art of the giant ensemble rom-com, but even a tried-and-true genre will fall flat if the story is too convoluted and messy. And this is about as convoluted as it comes.
Still, despite the mess created by trying to stuff 10 pounds of plotlines into a 5-pound bag, the same charm that won audiences over with the first Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is still in full force here. We do, after all, still have Smith's sarcastic brilliance, Nighy's hounddog face and ability to inspire empathy, Dench's bottomless well of magnetism, and Patel's overwhelming, boyish enthusiasm. Their star power and charisma, when weighed against the flaws in story and pacing, rescue Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel from being a dud. It's not as fresh or sharp as the first film, but, much like a well-loved blanket, it's familiar and warm. Not quite as exotic, then, but comfortable. And perhaps, that's exactly the right kind of tone for the Marigold Hotel, after all.