In The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, young Sonny Kapoor had a dream: to turn a ramshackle hotel in Jaipur, India, into a semi-permanent, semi-retirement home for semi-wealthy Brits who were only semi-done living. And even though the dusty, dingy, dilapidated collection of rooms wasn’t exactly what his guests expected when they arrived, it turned out to mean more to them than they’d ever dreamed.
Which is why they’re back for the second act.
As the title of this sequel suggests, Sonny’s trying to acquire a second hotel to expand his burgeoning business “empire” in Jaipur. But The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel isn’t really about a business deal. No, it’s about relationships. And as was true the first time around, things are still poignantly, comedically, romantically, dramatically mixed up for the aging residents of Sonny’s not-so-exotic residence.
Take the complicated case of Evelyn Greenslade and Douglas Ainslie, for instance. Though not officially divorced from his insufferably critical wife, Jean (who shows up late in the film to be insufferably critical), everyone can see that stumbling, fumbling, bumbling Douglas and Evelyn have something going on. (If only in their minds.)
Then there’s recovering playboy Norman Cousins. The amorous older man is managing to keep his cheating instincts in check for once, doing his best to stay faithful to his live-in lover, Carol. It’s not clear, however, that she’s returning the favor.
Meanwhile, Madge Hardcastle faces a conundrum: She can’t choose between two wealthy suitors who are both on the brink of proposing. What’s a woman to do? Why, keep leading both of them on while she sorts through her confusion, of course! Never mind that she’s not really sure she wants to marry either of them.
Speaking of marriage, that’s Sonny’s goal—when he’s not trying to finagle the purchase of another hotel. He and his bride-to-be, Sunaina, are closing in on their joyous wedding day. At least it was supposed to be joyous. So why has old rival Kushal turned up to sift Sonny’s deepest inadequacies?
Hotel manager Muriel Donnelly continues to work faithfully with and for Sonny, even going so far as traveling to America with him to court a company that invests in hotels catering to an aging clientele. But don’t think for a second that Muriel doesn’t have secrets of her own.
Newcomers Guy Chambers and Lavinia round out this Second Best ensemble cast. Guy’s a tall, silvery writer bent on impressing Sonny’s mother, Mrs. Kapoor. Lavinia’s a relatively young woman who says she’s scouting a room for her aging mother—and who begins to develop a thing for Kushal.
This interwoven cast of characters laughs and loves and loses and laughs some more as they reflect on how little time they have left and how they might make the most of it with one another. You see, they say to us, life’s latter years can be full of fear and regret, so to make the most of that season, we have to face those fears and keep taking risks that stretch us, both relationally and in how we spend our time. (Not that they always get things right in this regard, something I’ll say more about in my Conclusion.)
Along the way, this crew forms a community where each person’s strengths and perspectives at times benefit others. Muriel helps Sonny, for instance, not only in his business dealings but his relationships as well. Sonny can be easily offended, so his older mentor challenges him to pull out of his self-absorption. “Self-pity destroys everything around you,” she exhorts bluntly. “Don’t be that idiot.”
Sonny takes her words to heart and apologizes to his bride-to-be for bad choices he’s made, choices born of his insecurities. Sunaina graciously tells Sonny that she’ll always be honest with him, and that he doesn’t need to be insecure when it comes to her love for him.
Sonny is also a veritable fount of what might be called pop proverbs. “It’s the teamwork that makes a dream work,” he tells his mother. “Failure to prepare is preparing to fail,” he tells Guy. “Instinct is the nose of the mind,” he tells Muriel. And one more: “Coincidence is just a word for when we cannot see the bigger picture.” Sonny’s sunny sayings are reflective of his generally upbeat, can-do attitude.
“Sometimes it seems the difference between what we want and what we fear is the width of an eyelash,” Evelyn observes. And Douglas encourages her to go for it when she’s unsure she should commit to greater responsibilities in her job.
Characters frequently use the spiritually tinged Indian greeting namaste. Sonny and Sunaina’s wedding includes traditional Indian religious components (though the movie doesn’t delve into them). Sonny says his father’s ashes were “scattered on holy waters.” Indeed, there are frequent conversations and jokes about the main characters dying at any time.
Most of these folks are having sex with someone (revealed in wholly implied sequences). Madge has two suitors vying for her hand in marriage, and it’s clear she’s sleeping with both—sometimes on the same day. Norman and Carol share a room at the hotel, and we learn that Carol is cheating on him with multiple men (he sees her hugging one of them) because she thinks he’s sleeping with other women. Guy woos Mrs. Kapoor, spending a night with her. (She tells him he’s the first man she’s been with since her husband died years before; he says he’s been with several women since his divorce, but that he wants her to be his last.) Jean implies that she’s having sex with her new lover (though it turns out the relationship is a fabrication to get Douglas to divorce her). She is shocked that Douglas and Evelyn have not yet consummated their complicated relationship. Lavinia flirtingly pursues a relationship with Kushal.
There are lines about pimping, ovaries, getting “fortunate” and walking “naked through the fires of hell.” Sonny says jokingly of Guy, “This man is so handsome he has me urgently questioning my own sexuality.” Someone’s reading Fifty Shades of Grey. Sunaina wears clothing that reveals midriff and/or cleavage. Lengthy sequences show traditional Indian dances performed with a sensual quality.
There’s a drunken hint that Norman wants his girlfriend “gone”—and then an auto rickshaw nearly runs her over.
One exclamation of Jesus’ name, one of “good lord” and five or six of “oh my god.” We hear “d–n,” “p—,” “bloody,” “b-llocks” and “b-gger” once or twice each.
Characters drink alcohol, mostly wine, at meals and gatherings throughout the film. Norman is clearly drunk one night returning to the hotel.
There’s a fair bit of deception here, whether its people pretending to be someone they’re not or supposed friends and lovers deliberately hiding important truths. Douglas observes, “The great and terrible thing about life is that there’s just so much bloody potential.” And so it should be noted that it’s the terrible side of that potential that prompts him to try to trigger an extramarital affair with Evelyn.
“There’s no present like the time.”
It’s merely an English axiom mixed up by way of the language barrier, but Evelyn repeats the phrase later in a meaningful way, and it could easily sum up the life lesson she and the other predominantly septuagenarian residents of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel are learning once again: that time is indeed precious.
The biggest enemy to making the most of our time, Evelyn suggests, is fear. Fear of commitment. Fear of the unknown. Fear of being hurt. Fear of being left alone. At one level or another, everyone in the movie is grappling with some variant of this pernicious anxiety. And all of them have to learn to step courageously through their fears to the deeper intimacy they all long for.
Not all of them step in the right direction, I should say at this point. Because speaking of intimacy, there’s quite a lot of that going on here when you lump in the physical side. The story at times makes light of cheating and indiscretions, even joking about adultery. And few of those engaging in (offscreen) sex are actually married.
At least the film seems to be suggesting that sex should ultimately be coupled with commitment. Its characters just don’t get things done in the right order most of the time. But more so than in the first installment, the residents of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel are lurching—sometimes even staggering, in Norman’s case—toward the realization that there’s no true intimacy without true commitment. They haven’t arrived yet. They’ve got baggage to haul and blind fears to flail around in. But you could say that they’re perhaps taking baby steps toward finally growing up.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.