The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, film review: Amiable sequel lacks sense of urgency

(PG) John Madden, 122 mins Starring: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Richard Gere, Bill Nighy, Dev Patel, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup, Penelope Wilton
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This perfectly amiable comedy sequel can never quite transcend its own Saga holiday brochure-style complacency. Not even the presence of Hollywood heart-throb Richard Gere as a guest quickens the emotions in the sleepy Indian hotel.

During a period when Michael Haneke, in L'Amour, and Andrew Haigh, in 45 Years (with its superlative performances from Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling), have made intense and harrowing films about love, bereavement and betrayal among older protagonists, Madden opts for character-driven comedy that celebrates their dotty eccentricities. As the "action" begins, the young and hapless manager Sonny (Dev Patel) is preparing for his wedding and trying to expand the hotel business. He is terrified of offending a hotel inspector which is why he behaves with such fawning sycophancy to mysterious American guest Guy Chambers (Gere).

 

Bill Nighy's Douglas is giving guided tours (relying on a teenage accomplice to feed him lines through an earpiece) while cautiously wooing Judi Dench's 79-year-old Evelyn. She has just been hired as a full-time fabrics buyer for a European company; Ronald Pickup's Norman is worried his partner is cheating on him; Celia Imrie's mischievous Madge is juggling suitors; and Maggie Smith's sardonic but kind-hearted and wise Muriel is overseeing events.

The film is well observed, playful, and deploys its formidable cast of dames and scene-stealing senior citizens cannily enough. What it lacks is any sense of urgency. The residents seem remarkably unperturbed by the thought that, just maybe, the grim reaper is waiting for them too and that, one day soon, they may not make Sonny's morning roll call.

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