Year Released: 2015
Directed by: John Madden
Starring: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Dev Patel
(PG, 122 min.)
“Getting old is not for sissies.” Bette Davis
It’s hard to turn down this second helping of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It overflows with talent, good will, and an effervescent joy of life like a glass of champagne filled to the brim.
The film takes our charming collection of British pensioners and their ebullient Indian hotelier Sonny (Dev Patel) on their next adventure. Settled in but not quite sorted out, they navigate their new relationships and jobs with an endearing, almost adolescent awkwardness. In the mean time, Sonny, trying to balance his upcoming wedding to the lovely Sunaina (Tina Desai) with his relentless ambition to open a second hotel, borders on channeling Tony Robbins’ dogmatic eagerness.
The opening scene – Sonny barreling down Route 66 in a rented Mustang convertible with Muriel (Maggie Smith) trying to keep her bonnet and nerve from taking flight – revs up our expectations, even if we purists recognize that the famous highway ends in LA, not San Diego as pictured.
Sonny is trying to interest some investors in his hotel expansion dreams, and in spite of Muriel’s warning to let her do the talking, he cannot help himself.
He smiles at Muriel before moving into the hard sell:
“This great lady … had the chance to say, ‘Why die here….’ (long pause) ‘When I can die there.’”
That and the morning roll calls to see if anyone has died in the night should really seal the deal, right?
Yet, except for Muriel’s delightful acerbic put down of what the Americans call tea, we have no other comic cultural clashes in this all too brief visit to the States. The visit also muddied with a hurried set of flashbacks to India updating us on what has happened there in the last 8 months. They parade across the screen in such a rapid succession to leave us as unsettled as Muriel found herself in the speeding Mustang.
Once back in India, however, we remember what endeared audiences to the original film. It treats the seniors with an even hand, avoiding the vulgar stereotypes such as June Squibb’s Kate that 2013’s Nebraska foisted upon us.
Ms. Squibb’s vulgar tongue follows Hollywood’s penchant for celebrated foul-mouthed elders such as Betty White in The Proposal, which is mild compared to the heroine-addicted-sexual predator-porn-loving-pervert of a grandpa Alan Arkin scored an Oscar for in 2006’s Little Miss Sunshine.
As in the original Marigold venture, however, this film does not treat these beings as the asexual creatures the younger set assumes of their elders. One swinger, Madge (Celia Imrie) puts the gals of “Sex in the City” to shame as she juggles two wealthy suitors, finding time to great the new arrival, Richard Gere’s Guy Chambers, with a more modern version of “Be still, my beating heart” in her breathless
“Lordy, Lord, have mercy on my ovaries.”
Yet all the trysts, and there are quite a few, are handled with the subtle class some of us remember from a more innocent cinema: A bedroom door closes; a couple walks upstairs hand in hand. Like a fully dressed woman, imagination is our best amorous asset here.
Not content to watch they world from their rockers, our sexagenarians (no pun intended), as well as their fellow septuagenarians and octogenarians also enter the Indian workforce with adaptive skill. Douglas (Bill Nighy) doesn’t have much short term memory, but that doesn’t stop him from giving guided tours, aided by an earwig worthy of the CIA that allows him to access the ready intelligence of his wired confederate, a young Indian boy who occasionally courts disaster when he slips off to a impromptu soccer game.
Evelyn, Judi Dench trading in M’s steel spine and glowering gaze for blushing smiles when it comes to her new love interest, Douglas, becomes an affable but shrewd textile buyer, haggling with the vendors without losing her humor.
Norman (Ronald Pickup) earns his cash by tending the bar at the elegant Viceroy Club, even if he has to water down the wine to make ends meet.
More fully acknowledging its Bollywood roots in this second outing, our film ends with Sonny and Sunaina’s fabulous wedding. The courtyard is swathed in light, all glowing lanterns and trees bedecked with diamonds of light. You can almost smell the sweet pungency of the ever-present orange marigolds, and the grand finale dance scene will make you want clap your hands. O, that America could emulate that delicate balance of beguiling movement that speaks of such energy and passion. Muted and veiled sensuality that refuses to pander to the vulgar bump and grind that masquerades as such over here.
Yes, it is a wisp of a plot, with a little less depth than its first time out. Maggie Smith’s Muriel is underused for the most part, and then plunged into few final notes that jar and make one wonder why she didn’t put her foot down and refuse to accept the poor scripting.
But that is like faulting a flawless cross-country jumper that muddies his feet on the bank after a spectacular leap over the water crossing.
This delightful concoction of second chances reminds us of the infinite possibilities of the human spirit. Do not miss it.
Indian cooking demands both art and skill as well as some very special ingredients. You can explore the finer points in more detail in two other delightful films, The Hundred-Foot Journey and The Lunchbox .
But let’s be like our cast of British newcomers and start with something easy and not too spicy. Homemade Indian Naan Bread is the perfect way to dip your toes into the Ganges, so to speak.
It is a delicious accompaniment to an Indian meal, or a wonderful addition to your own American dishes.
Homemade Indian Naan Bread
- 1 1⁄2 cups warm water
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1 teaspoon garlic salt
- 3¾ cups flour, plus extra for rolling
Preheat electric griddle or large skillet on medium high heat and grill naan for 2-3 minutes per side or until firm with light brown spots.