The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is not a bold film. It has a nice, specific and pretty much guaranteed audience, and it makes damn sure that its jokes, themes and plotlines all sit comfortably with them. I’m not exactly saying that this is a film made for old English people, but it’s definitely made with them in mind. There’s some jokes, but none of them even slightly risque. There are a couple of mildly tense plotlines – but we all know exactly where they’ll end. A couple of new characters are introduced and within the first thirty seconds we know exactly what they’re going to be like, who they’ll fall in love with and how it will be resolved. This film is the audio-visual equivalent of taking a walk around your garden. It’s attractive, charming, familiar and comforting. It’s not high art, but then why would it be?
The premise is exactly the same as the first film. Dev Patel is an entrepreneuring young man who starts a hotel company in Jaipur exclusively for old people. A bunch of well-loved 50+ actors turn up, have a couple of fall-outs and love-ins, and everything gets neatly tied in a life-affirming bow at the end. This time there’s some sort of plan to expand the hotel, a bit of friction between Dev Patel and his fiancee, and an utterly tame love-triangle plot that is resolved by everyone turning out to be utterly nice guys – and why shouldn’t they?
It looks pretty, but this is a film shot in India – and India has a knack for looking pretty. It’s bright, colorful, vibrant – all those words you see on the travel pamphlets – you barely have to think about the cinematography. Pop the camera down in a picturesque location, throw in some actors, rinse, repeat and you’ve got yourself a movie that critics will describe as “exquisitely shot.”
The plot meanders, to say the least. There are half a dozen subplots that all slowly and predictably get resolved, and then the film drags on for another thirty plus minutes with no real closure or satisfaction at the end. I found myself noticing points in the film where it could have ended, and then starting to wish that it had ended there. There are two or three closing speeches by members of the cast, none of which actually close the movie – it just keeps going. The last half-hour is far and away the worst part of the film, and approached sheer tedium for me.
I also take some issue with the politics of the film. None of these things ruined it for me, none of them seriously detract from the film in any way – they’re just interesting to think about in the context of western attitudes towards the East. India in this film apparently serves as a rejuvenation tool for middle class, white people from Britain. That’s not to say that this doesn’t happen in the real world – I’m sure many people take holidays to India and feel refreshed and life-affirmed and so on – but it seems to be the primary purpose of setting the film in India, and it seems to be the principal mode of portrayal throughout the story. There’s also something of an exotification issue going on here – certain scenes have that slightly worrying feeling of having stepped right out of a documentary film from pre-1948 – one half expects a clipped British accent to declare “These are only some of the marvellous sights found in India, the jewel of the Empire” before closing the scene with footage of a fluttering Union Jack.
I’m complaining about this film an awful lot, and it’s probably rather unfair of me. It’s not bad, by any means. I enjoyed most of it, I felt it dragged a bit, and my smug literature-grad attitude snapped up an opportunity to whinge about neo-colonialism and exotification. It’s regularly quite funny, with Dev Patel doing a great job in the comedic scenes, and all the actors turn in good performances. Nothing was unconvincing, but nothing was exceptional in the least. It’s a film that opted to play it completely safe, and succeeded at doing so. 2.5/5