Older characters in movies are generally seen in supporting roles, restricted to the sidelines as their younger counterparts have all the fun. But as some of cinema’s greatest and most likable actors age, filmmakers are seizing the opportunity to tell stories that appeal to a more mature demographic. In recent years, there have been a number of films featuring aged actors who are not afraid to call attention to their years of experience. However The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel sets itself apart by centring on a somewhat more realistic though still entertaining view of retirement that doesn’t involve guns or espionage.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and its residents are thriving; so much so that Sonny (Dev Patel) wants to expand by opening a second location. However, he needs help financing his dream project. With the assistance of Mrs. Donnelly (Maggie Smith), Sonny meets with an American retirement franchise and proposes they invest in his plans and form an international partnership. Intrigued by the idea, the Americans agree to send an undercover inspector to assess the Marigold’s operations and potential. While Sonny obsesses about impressing the inspector (Richard Gere) – or possibly just another resident he’s mistaken for the inspector – he neglects his wedding plans and fiancé, Sunaina (Tina Desai), who he worries is being seduced by a recently returned childhood friend (Shazad Latif).
Since the residents are already settled and integrated into the once-foreign land, there’s no need for all the backstory and character development that occupied the first picture. Instead viewers are invited to watch how well they’ve adapted, running the local ex-pat club, giving cultural tours, buying goods for an upstart and entertaining marriage prospects. As a result, more of the story is focused on the drama in Sonny’s life. From trying to prevent his mother from interacting with the guests (though Gere’s character is not easily dissuaded) to allowing his insecurities and paranoia to jeopardize his relationship with Sunaina to his possible implosion as all the self-imposed pressure rises to meltdown proportions.
Smith’s cranky Mrs. Donnelly is always a highlight, though it’s clearer now that much of her irritation is a sign that she cares — just don’t try to offer her tea made with tepid water as demonstrated by a lengthy (and valid) scolding at the picture’s start. Besides, a cast of such talented veteran actors including newcomer Gere who instils his character with his signature charm, Dame Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup and Diana Hardcastle can only deliver sincere and enticing performances when given such endearing material with which to work. And Patel remains ever delightful, portraying Sonny’s unquenchable enthusiasm, fast and passionate speech patterns, and amusing approach to business.
It’s easy to tell when a cast is enjoying their time on set and it’s quite obvious that within the context of this film the actors were having a grand time reprising these characters. This fact is never clearer than at the movie’s end, which includes an energetic dance sequence that even brings the retirees to the dance floor.