I was at the movie theater early yesterday. Early enough that they were just finishing the first batches of popcorn. I could smell it walking in from the parking lot. Other benefits of going to the 10:30 AM showing of The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel are that you get to feel like a real youngster compared to some of the other movie goers and you get to see trailers for movies you’ve never even heard of before. I am soooo not complaining about things like Avengers: Age of Ultron or Furious 7. I love those. I just like to mix it up sometimes with something like the new Cameron Crowe movie, Aloha.
The first The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is sort of like The Breakfast Club with English pensioners instead of Chicago teenagers. Instead of taking place in the 80s, some of the characters are actually in their 80s. It has the same existential angst of the Hughes classic but instead of a jackass assistant principal, there is an over energetic and inexperienced hotelier. The movie is heart-warming and heart-breaking all at once. The easy jokes about oversexed and altogether over-it retirees are balanced by Judi Dench’s search for meaning and Tom Wilkinson’s struggle with his identity. The movie is saturated by the colors of India and the authentic emotional conflicts of each of its characters.
So, is The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel any good? I’ll get to that, but, for me, it was kind of beside the point. When I sunk down into my seat with my ginormous Diet Coke I didn’t really care if the movie was great. I didn’t even need it to be good. It’s been a long winter and spending two hours bathing in the sun of the sub-continent was good thing. I like marking time with Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, and Maggie Smith. Dev Patel’s Sonny is exuberant and enthusiastic and who doesn’t need more of that in your life?
Turns out, though, it is good. It’s better than good. Okay, so maybe it lives up to its name as the Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (those italics all mine) when you compare it to the first. Some of the emotional tension is gone and is replaced with a secret-shopper sub-plot and Richard Gere. But anyone who knows me knows that I like a good hey-gang-let’s-pull-together-and-put-on-a-show show like Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney did in White Christmas. (This is part of why I unabashedly love the CW show Hart of Dixie but we will save my regard for Bluebell, Alabama for another day.) Maggie Smith will break your heart again in all of the best ways. Bill Nighy’s seemingly effortless charm barely masks a winsome loneliness. Throughout it all, though, there is pop music and wedding dancing and painted elephants and marigolds. Lots and lots of marigolds.
If the first movie was like your favorite spicy curry, the second is like naan fresh from the oven or a warm cup of Chai. Both go surprisingly well with the mini-churros and a ginormous Diet Coke from the concession stand.