What do you do with a problem like “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel?” This 2012 indie dramedy turned out to be the sleeper hit that nobody saw coming: making back over thirteen times its modest budget at the box office and staying in theaters for months longer than anybody had expected it to. Partly due to its all-star cast – which included Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton and Tom Wilkinson – and partly due to appealing to just the right demographic at just the right time (older movie-goers who weren’t the least bit interested in shelling out upwards of ten dollars a ticket to see “The Avengers” or “The Dark Knight Rises”), its unprecedented popularity simply demanded a follow-up.
The problem was, however, that the film was based on a novel with no sequel that perfectly resolved every conflict that cropped up in its narrative. A British widow finds purpose in her move to India, a strained couple breaks up when one embraces their emigration and the other does not, two lonely hearts find solace in each other, an old curmudgeon learns to bypass her racist ways and a young hotel owner stands up to his domineering mother and carves out his own path to success. All of the conflicts resolve, all of the characters pair off with one another and everybody settles into their comfortable Indian retirement.
The solution, as it turned out, was to pick up right where the first left off. Never minding the first’s resolution, “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” finds the dramatic potential in where each of the characters left off three years ago.
Despite finding romance in 2012, Evelyn Greenslade (Judi Dench) is struggling to allow herself to be intimate with Douglas Ainslie – the man whose marriage she inadvertently broke up. Meanwhile, Jean Ainslie (Penelope Wilton) returns to India to secure a divorce from her still husband Douglas so that she can pursue her own romances back in Britain. Madge Hardcastle (Celia Imrie) continues to search for love in wealthy men, struggling to decide which of her two suitors she should marry.
Norman Cousins (Ronald Pickup) becomes overbearing to girlfriend Carol Parr (Diana Hardcastle) when he accidentally puts a hit out on her while drunkenly recounting what a ladies man he’s become in India. All the while, an increasingly ill Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith) struggles to help Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel) franchise his hotel while Sonny is increasingly distracted by his pending wedding to Sunaina (Tina Desai) and the advances of his would-be rival Kushal (Shazad Latif).
Although admittedly over-stuffed with plot, the multiple narratives are never so involved nor so omnipresent that they overstay their welcome on-screen. Each is afforded just enough screen time to keep from feeling superfluous or overlong. And since the first film got all of the necessary character establishing out of the way, “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is afforded the space to comfortably explore its characters and their numerous interactions in a way that its forebear never could.