You don’t necessarily have to see the original to enjoy the sequel, but it would help. In “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” (2011), a handful of British retirees are enticed by the alluring advertising and decide to relocate to Jaipur, India, because of the promise of luxurious accommodations at bargain prices. Alas, once they pull up stakes in England and arrive in India, what they find there is a lot of enthusiasm and not much luxury. But despite their initial disappointment, the pure charm of the place entices them to happily remain, anyway. And a big part of the charm is the pure effervescence of the young proprietor, Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel). That, and they find themselves bonding with one another despite their default curmudgeon mode. Just because we old people are grouchy, caustic and cynical doesn’t mean we don’t desperately need to be around some youth, energy and good old-fashioned caring (which is partly why older congregations consistently seek to call young vigorous pastors).
In the sequel, many of the same characters remain, but there is plenty of intrigue, both among the staff and the guests. Sonny is engaged to the receptionist, the beautiful Sunaina (Tina Desai, who is also a great dancer). But the big, ugly, green-eyed monster apparently is alive and well in that other hemisphere. Sonny finds himself insanely jealous of Sunaina’s dance partner with whom she’s been practicing for the big wedding rehearsal party. Sonny, normally over-the-top friendly to everyone, is actually mean and snippy, to not only the man he perceives as his potential rival, but also to his own mother, whom he apparently still resents for divorcing his dad. Then, his invective spreads to the new guest, because she happened to check in at the same time the hotel inspector (played by Richard Gere), whom Sonny showers with embarrassingly inordinate and overweening attention.
Meanwhile, the residents have melodramas of their own. Douglas (Bill Nighy) is suffering from a dementia that renders him unable to put together an articulate sentence, but he nonetheless enlists the help of a native busboy, reading a script to him through an earpiece, still trying to woo the reluctant Evelyn (Judi Dench), who’s pushing 80 and yet seriously considering a full-time job offer. Madge (Celia Imrie) can’t decide between several simultaneous suitors, but seems most charmed by the cab driver who takes her to each serial rendezvous. Murial (Maggie Smith) is always good for a few well-timed zingers, but somehow she gets away with it because people think she’s being humorous. Norman and Carol (Ronald Pickup and Diana Hardcastle) are supposed to be in a relationship, but both are wondering how exclusive it’s meant to be. But mostly what they’re all doing is living their complex, variegated, messy lives, and that’s supposed to be the point here: Seniors don’t have to consign themselves to the rocking chair. There’s plenty of living to do, just not a lot of time left, so get out there and get a life.
OK, the moral to the story isn’t very original. But the bustling urban Indian setting is, and the exotic context more than makes up for the tepid plot sequel.
RONALD P. SALFEN is the parish associate at Woodhaven Presbyterian Church in Kaufman, Texas.