What to Expect
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was quite the surprise in more ways than one.
Apart from being the extremely warm film that it was, the film but ended up being a rather peculiar voice of reason for people who thought fighting for wants and needs of many a kind was but a distant dream. And mostly because it did end on a rather fulfilling closer, nobody really expected to have a sequel on its way.
And yet here we are, me having voiced out my opinions on the very sequel you’re reading up on.
Now, the fact that the makers of this – now film franchise – jumped onto the franchise bandwagon is quite funny, considering this wasn’t exactly the big-budgeted mainstream blockbuster type, compared to the ones that usually make the cut. Of course, there have been exceptions (the Apu trilogy, Linklater’s Before… series et al), however, this is the kind of parallel film that won’t usually excite studio executives to jump toward another installment of the same – this, regardless of the quality of work or the financial success of the same.
In the rather frustratingly complex world of sequel-making, we witness a lot of changes in namely the writing or directing positions, but the fact that John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) and Ol Parker (Now is Good) have but come back to continue where the characters left in their last collaboration together speaks something in itself. And with a casting coup this promising coming back for another round, one couldn’t exactly expect anything less than the effortlessly comforting film the first one successfully was.
But here’s the thing about sequels: they’re not exactly better than the originals – unless, of course, they’re The Bourne Supremacy. ‘Cause when you’ve got The Bourne Supremacy pitted against The Bourne Identity, everything gets better the second time ‘round.
What’s it About?
Well, Sonny (Dev Patel; Slumdog Millionaire) and his now manager Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith; My Old Lady) pitch their plans to an American organization to expand their hotel to a franchise, they’re pitted in with an unusual problem – an undercover investigator who’ll land in to get the feel of the hotel before they get the inevitable go-ahead. And when the extremely charming Guy Chambers (Richard Gere; Days of Heaven) lands up at the hotel, Sonny’s “ever-trusting nose” smells undercover right off him.
In the meanwhile, there’s the very unsure footing the relationship between Evelyn (Judi Dench; Philomena) and Douglas (Bill Nighy; About Time) takes, which takes a rather uncomfortable toss with the arrival of Jean (Penelope Wilton; Belle) the now estranged wife of the latter. There’s then, of course, the pushing and pulling between Norman (Ronald Pickup) and Carol (Diana Hardcastle), and Madge’s continuing search for a stability in her love life that continues to formulate within itself. All of these events intersect to form a meeting point that is Sonny and Sunaina’s (Tena Desae; Table No. 21) ever-eventful wedding.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Here’s the deal: John Madden knows Ol Parker’s characters from the back of his hand. It’s this confidence in knowing that make his characters all the more multi-dimensional. Madden and Parker have got most of the cultural aesthetics bang on, what with the wedding, and the grounded characters set in India getting the deserved spin that will help the rather localized audiences watching the film relate more often than not.
For all of their research on the culture, the music supervisor must be questioned on the rather disdainful choice of “Bollywood” numbers. From the extremely questionable inclusion of Balma (an original song produced for the motion picture Khiladi 786) and Aila Re Aila (for the motion picture Khatta Meetha) to the rather callous usage of Yeh Ishq Hai (produced for the Indian motion picture Jab We Met), the audiences who’ve attained relative familiarity with the soundtracks of these films will definitely question the supervisors credibility on a rather harsh level. On the rather shining flip side however, you’ve got a terrific score composed by Thomas Newman, who’s successfully used a fusion of sounds to produce a rather emotionally elevating set of eclecticisms, whilst still retaining his own instrumental and orchestral trademarks. This is most certainly a terrific follow up to his score for the first installment of the now series.
There are the occasional dips in narrative, with some portions stretching further than they have to. To add to that, while Smith’s voiceover-based climactic narrative does give a major introspective throwback to the first, there are many who will most definitely miss the extremely wondrous, explorative tone of Dench, supported ably in the former film by the justification of her regularly updated blog, which is quite questionably missing here. Fortunately, the film breezes past its downers with the familiar sense of warmth and heartfelt pensiveness that the audiences approved in the first. Smith’s character receives a terrific step forward; a host of audiences will now get to understand her motivations and behavioral tendencies better. Wilton’s initially bitter character now has a comic edge, with her brilliantly timed sarcastic wit pretty much on track. Nighy and Dench have an extremely relatable love story, where both are trying to find footing within a dangerously ebbing set of trust issues looming. It’s these minimal, subtle character motives that Madden and Parker work on fleshing out – and are inevitably successful at.
Stepping back to superficiality, the production design of the film is terrific, with the sharp dip being the Mumbai angle, where a particular scene apparently set in Mumbai (?) still feels like Jaipur. Ben Smithard (Belle) takes the cinematographic reins over from Ben Davis (Guardians of the Galaxy) and retains the dynamism on visual storytelling Davis contributed to the first installment. The costumes provided to the film are casual and provide the characters a perfect sense of blending in. It’s probably a very valid reason that the film feels ever-so-slightly the indulgent product that it is due to Madden doubling up as film editor compared to the first one. While the cuts are fantastic, blending in many intersecting storylines together, there’s a sense of difficulty in parting with the material in its sense of tightness.
To Perform or Not to Perform
Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Bill Nighy are in top form here. While – at the risk of repeating myself – Smith digs into her newly-found meaty second innings, Dench and Nighy continue to be the highlight, with Dench’s underplayed confidence and Nighy’s stumbling feet giving their chemistry an awkward sense of cuteness. Richard Gere is a terrific inclusion to the scene, while Dev Patel is still the rather annoying character. And while he plays well, his fake accent gives itself away as he mouths lines in Hindi, which are – unfortunately – a major technical failure. Lilette Dubey (Corporate) reprises her role with her usual bout of charm and confidence. Tena Desae’s character is a wee-bit underwritten compared to the catalyst she was in the first film, but one doesn’t mind her – for she’s still a strong enough character on a personal level. Shazad Latif is functional; he looks pretty, acts cocky and succeeds for his runtime. Celia Imrie is comparatively impressive, for her character moves away from the superficiality it directed towards for most of the first film. There’s a mot more to Madge here, and her (inevitable) relationship with the driver rises it – and her show of performative strength – up a few notches. Pickup and Hardcastle continue with their respective brand of realist humor and eternal confidence in their character, played to the hilt with a commendable payoff by the end of the characters’ motives. The others are great.
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel lives up to its title in a weird way – it doesn’t exactly cover any ground the first didn’t. And yet, for a reason unfathomable to me, the movie still manages to work the very charm the first did, making it exactly the warm and heartfelt film it was gearing up to be.
In short, it feels like home. And that’s exactly what I was looking for.
Watch the trailer
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