Many of you have read my previous reviews, and therefore you know that I very much enjoyed “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” (2011). It was a hope-filled, delightful look at the possibilities during one’s Sunset Years, though it was not without its more sobering themes. It revealed that dreams can still come true, freedom achieved, and love discovered, all amid the lush and vibrant backdrop of India and the new entrepreneurial venture of young, awkward Sonny Kapoor – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful.
The sequel to this well-received film, “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” holds all of its predecessor’s charm and life, just in different situations.
Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel), still elated over the success of his first business venture, and his engagement to the beautiful Sunaina (Tina Desai), goes to America with his newly appointed co-manager, Mrs. Donnelly (Maggie Smith) to secure backing for his expansion endeavor – The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Impressed more with Mrs. Donnelly than with Sonny, the investors (led by David Strathairn) assure the pair that they are quite interested in his proposal, but must first send a hotel inspector to assess the potential of Sonny’s plans. Sonny contacts his beloved to tell her the incredible news…and discovers childhood rival Kushal has swooped in to claim Sunaina’s attention while he was away.
As Sonny tries to work out Kushal’s ulterior motives AND plan his wedding AND prove to his mother that he can succeed in business, the other residents of the original Best Exotic Marigold Hotel also have their various conundrums to resolve:
- Evelyn (Judi Dench) and Douglas (Bill Nighy) are, by Evelyn’s own admission, “not not together,” but somehow haven’t moved forward in their relationship; not from a lack of willingness on Douglas’ side, truth be told, but more a hesitation on Evelyn’s side. To make matters worse, Douglas’ daughter (Claire Price) and estranged wife (Penelope Wilton) arrive back at the Marigold Hotel, making an already awkward situation worse.
- Norman (Ronald Pickup) and Carol (Diana Hardcastle) seem happily paired, but a drunken confession about the frustrations of monogamy, combined with too much tip, result in Normal thinking an Indian taxi driver accepted a hit on Carol’s life.
- Madge (Celia Imrie) continues to pursue rich, eligible suitors, and has stepped up so far as to have two vying for her affection at once, yet she seems unwilling to choose either.
Many themes weave in and out of The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, but the most predominate revolve around the concept of making challenging decisions. Sonny must decide between focusing on his hotel or his wedding. Evelyn must decide if she’s willing to take the next big step in both her romantic relationship and in her job. Douglas must decide if he’s going to passively accept the decisions of others. Madge must decide left or right at the turning. Norman must decide if he wants to pursue other women. And Mrs. Kapoor must decide if she’s going to trust this strange American writer who expresses such blatant interest in her.
It’s not just about making decisions, however. It’s about tackling one’s life head-on and choosing to direct it, purposefully and intentionally. For some, it’s a question of time. For others, it’s a question of preference. But for all, it is a question of courage and willingness. Do they stay and wallow in self-pity, or do they boldly step forward in a new direction and embrace the unknown?
There were several quotes dropped by various characters that really resonated with me, and they all tied together by the thought, Can I truly change this situation in which I find myself?
“There’s no present like the time….Some you win, my lady. Some you learn….Sometimes it seems the difference between what we want and what we fear is the width of an eyelash….I thought, how many new lives can we have? Then I thought, as many as we like….Coincidence is just a word for when we cannot see the bigger plan….Is there truly nothing you can do?....She doesn’t trust anyone, least of all herself. Which probably means she’s become someone she’s not proud of….There are some people into whose laps good things fall. I am not one of them….I don’t believe there is such a thing [as a difficult decision]. Throw a coin in the air and we always know what side we want it to land on….There’s no such thing as an ending; just a place where you leave the story.”
I found myself recalling a recent conversation with a friend of mine where he accused me of being complacent, or acquiescent, to my situation in life, that I simply accept it and do nothing to alter it. My initial reaction was to be defensive, but then I took a few honest seconds to evaluate what he said. I’ve often thought about how I feel unable to live any other way, too entrenched to make any changes. My friend claimed my attitude came out in my opinions of things, and he self-righteously declared himself “not that way.” I perceived his judgement as harsh and skewed, coming from a young, energetic, “the world is my oyster” perspective…until I realized that he’s right, and I’ve become cynical. “He’s young. He’ll understand when he’s my age.” Will he? Or have I just become too accustomed to my circumstances to bother wondering if there’s a different way to live? As someone told me yesterday, “Just because you’re used to it doesn’t make it right.”
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel brought these things to the forefront of my brain, and I found myself asking the same questions the characters did: Who am I, and do I still want to be that person? What actions must be made to change my life? What priorities must I make to let my years mean something?
What side of the coin do I want to land up?
Or am I going to settle for letting a coin dictate my options?
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is another vivacious romp through Jaipur, India, full of humor and affection and sarcasm, but it’s also a closer look at what it means to make another life for yourself at a time when most think you’re running out of life. But to do so means we must overcome our fear of what might be, what might go wrong, and what we think is holding us back. As Evelyn wrote, “This is what the young make us remember: that in the end it’s all very simple, that all it takes is to look into someone’s eyes and say, ‘Yes, this is what I want,’ and for them to reply, ‘It’s what I want, too, and there’s nothing to be afraid of.’” The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel reminds us that sweeping emotions, grand adventures, and new beginnings are for all of us, no matter our time.