I realize that "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" was a huge success with audiences worldwide, but when David and I saw it, accompanied by our teenaged daughter, we didn't see what everyone else saw, apparently. Though the cast was certainly unbeatable, I remember being totally disappointed with the screenplay by Ol Parker. The movie was based on the novel "These Foolish Things" by Deborah Moggach, but Parker's characterizations of her British retirees came off more as caricatures to me.


I am pleased to say that "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" is totally delightful. Perhaps director John Madden's collaboration on the screen story with Parker helped this time --- or perhaps it's simply the presence of Richard Gere, who is new to the cast --- who knows? Sequels are rarely better, but I have to admit I prefer this film to the first.


The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is filled to capacity, so co-managers Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel --- two big movies out this week) and Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith), jet off to America in search of a partner for their expansion idea. Sonny has already selected the potential property for The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, but he needs hotel mogul Ty Burley's (David Strathairn) money for the purchase.


Burley is intrigued, especially after Muriel gives a tutorial on brewing tea to his young staff waiter. He suggests to Sonny that he will send an agent undercover to inspect the two properties. While all of this is transpiring, Sonny and Sunaina (Tina Desai) are planning their upcoming nuptials, so when an American novelist-wannabe, Guy Chambers (Gere) arrives, Sonny immediately believes him to be Burley's spy.


The rest of the all-star cast has returned: Judi Dench and Bill Nighy as Eveyln and Douglas, Diana Hardcastle and Ronald Pickup as Carol and Norman, Celia Imrie as Madge, and Lillete Dubey as Sonny's mother, Mrs. Kapoor. They've all settled nicely into their lives in India, and especially into their tired, but exotic hotel. One of my favorite little parts is Sonny taking role call every morning, just in case someone unintentionally passes away during the night.


Dench and Night make a wonderful team, and we find ourselves rooting for them, along with everyone else, to make their friendship something more permanent. Both of them have such a lovely, carefree air about them, which fits their characters immensely.


Smith, of course, is priceless --- such a gem in anything she does. She plays the caustic know-it-all brilliantly, which is what has made her so significant a member of the cast on "Downton Abbey". And her friendship with Sonny is paramount to the center of this film.


Madden and Parker do an excellent job of weaving all the individual stories together. That, along with the rousing dance number at the end, make "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" the treat that it is.


Opinion: See It Now!





From a purely cinematic standpoint, I'm not sure why "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" (2011) required a sequel. But given that the film has earned a hefty $136 million worldwide on a skimpy $10 million budget, the reason is obvious. So with the same veteran cast, plus the infusion of new blood, courtesy of Richard Gere, "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" will probably reward its filmmakers again.


Actually, along with Jeanne, I like this second version more than the first. The theme running through it again involves getting old, with an emphasis on grabbing the gusto when you can, and as often as you can, before it's too late. Dame Judi Dench, as Evelyn Greenslade, the object of Douglas Ainslie's (Bill Nighy) eye, complains she's 79 years old (she's actually 80 in real life) when asked to ride on Ainslie's motorcycle. She does it, though, and relishes it. Of course, why she's reluctant to warm to Ainslie's obvious interest, at her age, is a bit incomprehensible.


The numerous other couplings in the film are less entertaining, including Sonny (Dev Patel, who's everywhere these days) and his fiancee, Sunaina (Tina Desai). He's got his hands full --- he thinks she's cheating on him, and he is also struggling with a new hotel deal with investment guru Ty Burley (David Strathairn).


Gere plays author Guy Chambers, the handsome new arrival that some of the women go gaga over, but who Sonny suspects is really a hotel inspector there to judge the original hotel ownership/staff on their hospitality acumen. Meanwhile, Guy is immediately smitten with Sonny's mother, Mrs. Kapoor (Lillete Dubey), who resists his initial advances, but we know, of course, that won't last. Their "romance" is reasonably affecting.


"The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" features a bumbling and stumbling, albeit charming, Nighy, mostly when he tries his hand at public speaking. "Downton Abbey" regular Penelope Wilton returns as Nighy's estranged wife, and the irrepressible Maggie Smith, another "Downton" stalwart, is Muriel Donnelly, Sonny's co-manager and chief negotiator for the second hotel property. Other cast members include the lovely Diana Hardcastle, real-life wife of Tom Wilkinson, as Carol Parr, girlfriend of the annoying Norman Cousins (Ronald Pickup).


Once agreement on the second hotel transaction is finalized, Sonny and Sunaina are wed in a precise Indian marriage ceremony. The film then shifts to a Bollywood motif at the couple's reception, complete with a decently choreographed dance routine.


Director John Madden returns --- he was Oscar-nominated for "Shakespeare in Love" (1998) --- and, collaborating with screenwriter Ol Parker, the duo does an adequate job with this sequel. The movie is mostly light-hearted material, and especially considering the dearth of roles for older actors, "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" is a family film suitable for the non "Fifty Shades of Grey" crowd.


Opinion: Wait for DVD