What would you call the folks that title their movie The Second Best?
Brave, dumb or merely ignorant? Crafty?
Having not seen the original, 2011’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, from director John Madden and screenwriter Ol Parker from the novel by Deborah Moggach, I decided I liked the looks of the trailer of these retired folks calling the decidedly hardscrabble hotel in India home. Judy Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy looked as pleasing a group of U.K.-accented actors of a certain generation can be. Throw in increasingly present Dev Patel as the returning harried Indian hotel keeper and newbie American silver-top Richard Geer, and it looked like a good way to warm up from the remnants of winter 2014-15 and anticipate a local warmup.
Indeed, the Saturday matinee crowd well represented the been-there, done-that generation, reflecting the gang on the screen. And the 2 hours, 2 minutes put together by Brits Madden and Parker may indeed play second fiddle to the original, but, without that measuring stick, I was able to like it just fine on its own merits.
The journey starts with Muriel Donnelly and Sonny Kapoor, a taciturn Smith and bedazzled Kapoor, checking out the great southwest of the United States, visiting San Diego in an attempt to woo the endorsement and dollars of an American company that’s flush from backing retirement hotels such as the Marigold.
Sonny, you see, has spied a property for sale back in India he thinks is perfect for a second complex. He’s promised to let Muriel do the talking, but can’t keep his enthusiasm cloaked during the meeting with a bigwig played by a straight-laced and-shooting David Strathairn. The exec holds back any promises except that he’d be sending a guy to check out Marigold I.
And back we go to India, where Sonny’s getting ready to marry the very Sunaina — too beautiful for him, he thinks in his heart — played with grace by Tina Desai. He’s flustered that she’s learning an engagement party dance — and more? — with his longtime nemesis, but he goes on calling out the names of the folks — nay, friends — who have filled his Marigold, every room save one, when two guests arrive at the same time. He’s sure that one of them is the man sent by the American inspector. Guy Chambers, played with ample charm but a reservoir of reserve by Gere as residents swoon around him, says he’s writing a novel, and finds eyes for Sonny’s widowed mother. Sonny gives him the featured room and the other new guest, younger British woman Lavania Beech in hunt for a place for her mother, an unfinished closet with no carpeting.
The paths and angles between all the guests and proprietors are many and loving. Evelyn Greenslade and Douglas Ainslie (Dench and Nighy) are particularly poignantly tangled as they bob and weave around their tangled feelings of past, present and future.
Sonny runs around bumbling, fumbling, fuming but mostly loving as the guests live full lives, ones where they can still learn things about themselves and others.
We can all hope that we can find a place like that down the line. Second best, compared to what?
Mark Bialczak is a veteran journalist who has lived in the Syracuse area since 1983. In early 2013, he was set free to write about whatever he wants. Click here to read Mark’s BLOG.