Wednesday 11 March 2015

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Far From The Madden Crowd

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
2015  UK/USA
Directed by John Madden 
UK cinema release print.

So it’s almost two years since The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel arrived in UK cinemas and, for a film I wasn’t that up for seeing initially, it impressed me quite a bit (my review here) I now find myself in the unexpected situation of seeing a sequel. Unexpected because, frankly, it’s not the kind of movie I would imagine would get or, indeed, require one... and I suspect some of the cast and crew were as surprised as me by that turn of events.

Like the first one, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel captures a certain charm and spirit from its ageing cast which is fairly unique and unlike most anything else at the cinema at the moment. Most of the regular cast of the first one (those characters who survived) are back for this installment including Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Dev Patel, Ronald Pickup, Diana Hardcastle and the always lovely Celia Imrie... there’s also a “surprise return” from another of the main players in the first film but... I won’t spoil that one here.

They are joined in this one by Tamsin Greig, Richard Gere (an actor who I’ve always had a lot of time and respect for, even if I don’t agree with some of his role choices... but anyone who’s worked in a Kurosawa movie is okay in my book) and David Strathairn... all of them equally great actors and who are welcome additions to the cast, although Strathairn, regrettably, only has two scenes (more on that a little later).

The film has room for these new characters to shine, such as Richard Gere’s novelist, and it also allows them to bring out other characters who were less in the spotlight in the last film and show sides of their personality we were unaware of. Specifically, I’m thinking of Sonny’s mother, played by the beautiful Lillete Dubey, who gets her chance to shine in this one, playing opposite Gere for some great two handers.

If you remember the first film, the key redeeming character turned out to be the one everybody was set up to dislike... who was actually the hidden gem and salvation of the title institution run by Sonny (played by Dev Patel) at the end of the movie... the character played by Maggie Smith. This second film is told through her eyes somewhat, via a voice over on a letter she is writing, and even though her scenes are small and fleeting (it’s a big cast), she is the prism through which the main narrative thrust is viewed... and there’s a dramatic reason for that but, again, I won’t spoil that one for you here either.

My chief concern about a sequel like this was that they wouldn’t have enough for all the characters hanging over from the first film to do but, while the film is much less about reaching personal destinations than that initial story was, this one seems to be about watching the way the characters have settled down and are handling the situation they are in. It’s set only 8 months after the first installment and it seems to me that maybe it should have moved on two years in time, like the production, but in some ways it makes a little more sense to lessen the time in relation to the dynamics of one of the sets of character relationships... although the characters all look a little more 'settled in' than a mere 8 months suggests, I would say.

Like the first film, it’s very much an ensemble piece and, since the writers have not run out of ideas and situations for their characters, this means that everybody seems to get a little less screen time than I would have preferred. Which is a shame, especially when there were a couple of extended dance sequences which maybe could have been considerably cut. There’s also a tendency to leave much which is going on unsaid, in a most subtle fashion, from certain situations while other events are spelled out in a rather too obvious manner. For example, Bill Nighy’s revelation to the man repairing his bicycle that he’d like to marry the Judi Dench character is telling us something which is far too obvious already... although there is justification later in terms of another character knowing the situation through a relationship to the bike man. Having said that though, I really don’t think things like that needed to be spelled out when the cast were doing such a terrific job of economically conveying just what was going on in their heads.

Similarly, a scene between Maggie Smith and David Strathairn near the end of the movie also seems to be more about making the audience aware of something (which again I really can’t divulge here) but in this case, at least, the second of two marvellously electric scenes the two actors share in the movie, is absolutely subtle and understated and executed much more preferably, it seemed to me.

Some of the situations in the movie do get a bit over the top in that very British way which makes you question the tone, at one point. One sub-plot involving the possibility of a contract killing and a Scorpion Cab is just this side of outrageous to still work comfortably within the film and just saves itself from turning into something more like a TV situation comedy... although for a while there I was looking at it and thinking how well the theme and setting of this series of films would convert over to a TV sit-com (and I fully believe that will probably happen someday in the future... maybe not right away but I wouldn’t be surprised if they try it at some point in the next 15 years). However, the writing, direction, cinematography and acting all pulls it off and back in the right direction and it just misses being a parody of itself by the skin of its teeth.

While I think the movie could have been a little longer, or cut differently perhaps, to show just a little more of the characters we loved from the first movie, I think that this film will still please people who embraced the idea of the first film. This is perhaps lesser of a movie and it may be a bit obvious to say that the title of the movie, which is actually referring to a second branch of the titular dwelling, may also be paraphrased to say that, of the two movies, this is also the second best of them... but I would perhaps also urge audiences to acknowledge that the second best of such a high quality, well polished product is certainly deserving of an audience who I am sure, are going to appreciate it as much, if not more, than I. A good solid film and one which I will be grabbing for my mother on a Blu Ray at Christmas, I should think. If you loved the first one... definitely don’t miss out on this release.

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