The Second Exotic Marigold Hotel is the first film I’ve written about where I have to throw my hands up and declare it officially critic-proof. Not that I couldn’t sit back and analyze it from several different perspectives. It doesn’t make any sense, it’s essentially unbelievable in its action and pairings, and there is a an odd camera movement combined with an unnecessary tracking shot that still doesn’t make sense. It slavishly follows nearly every cliché for its type, and yet is still something of a mess. But none of that matters. It’s like going to Grandma’s—there might be plenty out of kilter, but if you love her, you don’t notice (or it doesn’t matter).
To call the film an enjoyable romp is to oversell it, as romp implies something of a structure. And while we lurch toward the inevitable wedding of its main male character (Dev Patel), we also slip and slide into four other couplings, none of which are believable, and whose decisions and actions we simply sit back and accept at face value. Why? Because we love these actors first and these characters second, and just being with them will be what brings in the audience.
The stars shine brightly: Dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. They don’t have to do anything or act with purpose, and often they don’t here. Maggie continues to get the Downton Abbey one-liners, and she adjusts well to being out of that imperious period and character. She is the heart of the film, and we’re all just happy that she’s still around. Dench is supposed to be the apple of Bill Nighy’s eye, and as in the earlier film, we just are supposed to accept the 15-year difference in their ages—she’s older—which is more than evident on-screen. But if those two likable stars want to play that game, then, heck, we’ll go along with it against our more rational impulses.
Penelope Wilton, another Downton Abbey alumnus, is essentially dragged in to make an appearance. Her role is essentially unpleasant, but since the actress isn’t, we, uh, go along with it.
Then there is Richard Gere, added clearly to bring in the older female audience. He doesn’t seem to be getting much direction in terms of performance. He doesn’t exactly phone it in, but it doesn’t come close to being a stretch or any kind of demonstration of his actual acting prowess. He’s more of a cipher than a character, and his inevitable hook-up is both obvious and as incredible as the rest.
Dev Patel, a growing actor adept at both comedy and drama, gives a performance that’s pitched too high in terms of energy. Since the character is a go-getter, we can accept this—but just barely. Has the four-year interval really turned this character into such a whirling dervish of obsequiousness? And why does the script force his character into a side trip of childish insecurity (with all the same energy as when he’s up emotionally) when we haven’t seen that side before? Again, Patel makes it work, and we go along for the ride, even when we’d rather not. Patel does have a way with a comic line, however, and we can only hope this talent gets exploited more in the future.
The film integrates the western aspects of the hotel with its Indian environment more than the first film. The sounds, sights and colors of India are more present and of a piece with the western set and habits of its main characters. That alone gives the film an extra energy and attractiveness, and is the strongest improvement over the original film.
But when all is said and done, this is a film of actors we enjoy spending time with. They each go through their paces, some logically, some not, some pleasantly, some not. But the lack of logic and the presence of questionable plotlines won’t matter. Either these wonderful actors are worth spending two hours with just because of who they are, or they are not worth it. For this writer, they were. As in many an epic or historical drama, it’s the cast that matters. Here, that’s pretty much all there is. But what a cast….