March 27 — April 09
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
|Sat & Sun||2:00||5:00||7:30|
Unless otherwise noted, films begin on Friday and run through the next Thursday.
Humorous, touching, sentimental without being soppy, and delightfully acted by a masterful ensemble of veteran British thespians, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel wouldn’t have been a “surprise” hit in the 1930’s or ‘40’s. Like many films of that era, director John Madden’s film had terrific comic (and dramatic) performances, wonderful characters, a little social commentary, some mature romance, and yes, a very colorful, exotic location in Jaipur, India. But in today’s commercial film market, dominated by youth, explosions, CGI, and PG-13 sex The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was the surprise hit of 2011, and a wonderful surprise it was, briefly returning audiences to a time when good-natured, slightly daffy seriocomedies were made for adults. Hollywood took notice, and the original director, screenwriter (Ol Parker), and much of the cast (Dev Patel, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Celia Imrie) have returned to amuse, delight, and elevate moviegoers’ spirits just in time for spring: like the season, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a breath of fresh air, a welcome change of pace from a post-Oscar run of somber dramas and overblown sci-fi flops. The justified fear with many sequels is that the makers go broader, sillier, and more over-the-top than the original, thus erasing the subtle, finer qualities that made the previous film so popular in the first place. And though the plot of Second Best involves adorably energetic would-be entrepreneur Sonny (Patel) trying to expand his hotel operation, there’s even a brief sojourn to the U.S., the film remembers the quieter, more character-driven spirit of the original. Yes, there’s a Bollywood-style dance number, but it’s as sweet as it is silly, life-affirming rather than demeaning to the geriatric characters participating. Indeed, one of the strengths of both Marigold Hotel movies is that the advanced age of the characters, though an integral part of their personalities and what motivates them to travel to India, is never treated with anything less than respect. Neither are they treated like cute aliens just because they still enjoy travel, food, sex, love, and friendship, there’s no condescending message of “See? Old people are just like us” (as if their lives mattered only in relation to the youthful demographic Hollywood constantly aims at). This sensibility makes the Marigold Hotel movies universal in their appeal, as entertaining for younger and middle-aged viewers as they are for the older generation who get to see themselves on screen for once, being witty, playful, nurturing, bitchy, even flirtatious. The first film introduced a group of disparate British pensioners who booked reservations at the “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” expecting Taj Mahal-style opulence but shocked at the shabby, run-down establishment that boyishly frenetic Sonny is trying to restore to its former glory. After the initial disappointment, most of the characters begin to accept the hotel’s limitations and enjoy their post-retirement adventure, as well as the unique culture around them, in all its variety. The film implied that their age gave them the experience and perspective to “make do” with what life gives them, a comforting message for younger moviegoers, too. The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel wisely retains that essential idea, that our heroes no longer see themselves as nearing “the end,” but as entering a new and exciting phase of their lives. Muriel (Smith), the Cockney ex-charwoman, rediscovers herself as savvy businesswoman, helping Sonny sweet-talk a potential American investor (David Strathairn) into funding the purchase of a second hotel. Platonic buddies Evelyn (Dench) and Douglas (Nighy) have found employment in India, she’s a fabric buyer; he’s a (pretty bad) tour guide, and lovelorn Douglas is still too shy to take their relationship to another level. The surprise appearance of Douglas’s estranged wife Jean (Penelope Wilton) doesn’t help matters. On the more libidinous side, sexually voracious Madge (Imrie) thinks she’s found her latest conquest in mysterious new hotel resident Guy (Richard Gere), but he’s more interested in Sonny’s mom (Lillete Dubey), who’s cooly resistant to his charm. Sonny has love problems, too, when he neglects his own wedding preparations to Sunaina (Tina Desai) because he’s obsessed with trying to figure out if Guy is a spy planted by the American investors to inspect the quality of his hotel operation. So Sonny naturally goes overboard making sure Guy’s stay is the stuff dreams are made of, though the real spy might be a guest (Tamsin Grieg) Sonny hasn’t treated nearly so well, Meanwhile, Norman (Ronald Pickup) thinks he’s accidentally ordered a hit on new girlfriend Carol (Diana Hardcastle). All of these storylines are the stuff old-time screwball comedy plots. The filmmakers are aware of this. One of the joys of this sequel is that it’s unironically, amiably old-fashioned. John Madden and Ol Parker know that plots are inessential to this type of entertainment: was a missing brontosaurus bone and a leopard on the loose the reasons that audiences loved Bringing Up Baby? No, it was the inimitable teaming of Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn, the actors (and the wacky characters they played) were the big draw. (OK, the leopard was important, too). So it is with the Marigold Hotel movies: it doesn’t matter what “happens” because we know it’ll all work out somehow; what matters is seeing Maggie Smith delivering biting one-liners, Richard Gere having fun playing with his silver fox image, Dev Patel frantically trying to please everybody, and Judi Dench and Bill Nighy charming us as they fidget and insinuate and generally dance around their unspoken love for each other. We know what we’re going to get with this storyline, these actors, and these characters, we can even try to harden our hearts, especially since this is a sequel and must be a Hollywood cash grab, right?, but once again, that Best Exotic Marigold Hotel works its ineffable magic, making us smile and perhaps even tear up a little despite ourselves. It’s no shame to give in to the fun: The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is crafted by old pros who believe in entertaining audiences and know just how to do it. There’s no deep message or profound theme, except perhaps that repressing one’s feelings is our greatest barrier to happiness. Perhaps the greatest pleasure of this sequel is that the chemistry of the ensemble has really solidified, we believe in the underlying friendship, loyalty, respect, and love between these characters, They’re like old friends that we’ve traveled to India to visit after too long an absence. As critic Alexa Dalby remarks in Britflicks, the film “offers superb and joyous wish fulfillment. It’s life affirming, beautifully acted by the whole cast, both young and old, and as good as, and maybe even better than, the original.”
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