The Occasional Movie Review

second best posterIt’s a holiday weekend, and I’m trying to see if I can catch up on some couch time…

It’s a given that sequels are rarely up to the task when it comes to matching up to their predecessor. The reasons why are a mystery–the same cast, same writers, director, etc. should all add up to another hit. But the great unknown factor is the story. Building on the story in the first movie can be tricky. Especially when you have to stay within the walls that the story in the first film set up.

So the filmmakers usually try to spice things up a bit with a new character, some new, unforseen challenge for one or all of the characters to face.

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel tries its best to hold on to everything that was charming about its predecessor, and it succeeds to a point, but the story here is, sadly, really flat when it shouldn’t be.

Just to recap, in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, we find a collection of British retirees settling down in a rundown hotel/boarding house in India. We discover their reasons for settling in India, and find them trying to establish the next phase of their lives in a new world full of unknowns. (See my review here.) So while there are separate characters and individual storylines, there’s a commonality to them.

This time, we’re focused on next steps, which offers some commonality, but not enough to make the story interesting enough for another 2-hour movie. Sonny (Dev Patel) is trying to expand his hotel empire, with the help of one of the guests (Maggie Smith) and an American investor. Judi Dench’s character is looking at where her life is taking her in terms of a new career buying fabric for a local garment maker while she and Bill Nighy’s character are dancing around their relationship, wondering if they can take it to the next level. There are other relationship questions and problems for the other characters, and all of this is set against Sonny’s upcoming marriage, which may or may not happen because he’s overly tense over the arrival of an American hotel inspector (Richard Gere) sent by the investor.

Honestly, this isn’t a bad film. It just takes so long to get to the payoff that I had to just stop watching a few times because the story just felt like it was collapsing under its own weight. By the time I got 2/3rds of the way through the movie and realized that the story is finally getting somewhere, I wondered what took it so long. But minor plot points got in the way of everything: an accidental murder-for-hire plot, health problems that are not really addressed, romantic and business rivals, and the “is he or isn’t he the inspector” storyline.

The addition of Gere is probably unnecessary, though I understand his role as the foil for Sonny and as an unexpected love interest for Sonny’s mother (though frankly, just having him arrive and fall in love with her would have been a good enough storyline in a romantic comedy). And there was absolutely no reason to bring back Penelope Wilton as Bill Nighy’s soon-to-be ex-wife, nor was it necessary for the introduction of a second, rival hotel inspector.

Simplicity could have gone a long way toward making this movie as light and easy to watch as the first one: Let the characters shine in a simple story about people figuring out their part in the next phase of their lives. In the end, this is really a story about love and miscommunication (or lack of communication). They could have left the movie at that and it would have been just as good as the first.

Three out of Five Stars.