For those expecting a second trip to mysterious India, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel actually begins in California.
The sequel is set eight months on from the original film and the partnership between blue-sky thinker Sonny (Dev Patel) and retired housekeeper Muriel (Maggie Smith) has blossomed into a successful business. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is now close to full occupancy and Sonny is hoping to franchise its success. He and Muriel hold an important meeting with American backers, trying to convince them that what people in their twilight years really want is a chance to not just relax but reinvent themselves. The entrepreneurial Indian uses Muriel to illustrate his dream:
“A chain of hotels stretching across India and belong for those such as this great lady who had the chance to say, ‘Why die here … when I can die there!’”
In many respects The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is an encore performance of the previous film – which is not such a bad thing. Its talented ensemble cast (including Bill Nighy, Judi Dench, Celia Imrie and Ronald Pickup) has been expanded to make room for Richard Gere and Tamsin Greig as the hotel welcomes new guests. There’s the same brand of clever, British humour, delivered by return characters like Penelope Wilton who exited the last film an estranged wife and is now returning on the arm of her successful daughter:
“When she mentioned she’d been offered two return flights – first class, of course – I couldn’t resist the chance to come and visit the old crumbling ruins – and see how the hotel was doing as well!”
We Are Never Too Old to Change
Like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel there are a range of romances supporting the plot, including Sonny’s imminent marriage to his girlfriend Sunaina – if he can get his new hotel plans off the ground. But the essence of the film is still the philosophy that someone is never too old to change.
Dench plays Evelyn, the timid widow from the previous installment who has now found her feet in India and is quite ready to argue the toss with market dealers. Her budding romance with Douglas (Nighy) would blossom except for the surprise return of his ex-wife and her own uncertainties:
“Sometimes it seems to me that the difference between what we want and what we fear is the width of an eyelash.”
It made me wonder if Jesus had any advice for older Australians trying to pick a life direction? After all, I’m not looking for a retirement home yet but I can already appreciate how paralyzing the fear of change can be. We may have heard of a better way forward but it takes real courage to reach for it. Much better to settle for the bearable-but-not-so-pleasant present than risk everything on an unknown future. But Jesus warns that all futures are uncertain except those founded on a relationship with God. His parable tells the successful businessman whose retirement dreams consist of just much, much more of the same:
“You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”
The Second Best Exotic Hotel’s machinations for business and relationship success take so many unexpected turns that it falls to a ‘benevolent fate’ to bring things right in the end. However in the real world we need to rest on something more certain and realise that we can only hold on to that which God gives us.
Release Date: February 26, 2015