Three years after moviegoers checked in to "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" and made it a sleeper hit, a sequel has arrived to continue the India-set adventures of its plucky British retirees.
According to most reviews, "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" makes for an enjoyable enough stay — particularly for fans of Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy and company — but it's occasionally cluttered and contrived.
On the less favorable end of the spectrum, The Times' Mark Olsen says that if the first film "was like an aging 'Avengers' for the way it brought together an all-star cast of acting talent," returning director John Madden "inadvertently continues that inside joke by making something that feels obligatory and cobbled together like a late franchise entry. The film has only the sheer charm of its cast to get it by, and it says a lot about the actors that they nearly pull it off."
The Village Voice's Stephanie Zacharek is a bit more approving, writing, "if the harsh truth is that this follow-up is second best, it's still not half bad." She continues: "There's a lot going on here, perhaps too much — Madden and [screenwriter Ol] Parker stretch for drama instead of just allowing it to unfurl like a resplendent swath of silk. Essentially, though, they're just repeating formula, and there's still some magic to be shaken out of it."
Among the cast, Zacharek says, the banter between Smith and Dench is "particularly fun," and the romance between Dench and Nighy is "even better."
The Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips writes that "Madden's easygoing follow-up resembles a slightly scattered second season of a BBC sitcom," and that it "offers little you couldn't write yourself, but it does so with respectable level of craft. The appeal lies in the ensemble playing." Although the movie is "smooth to the point of blandness," Phillips says, "its faces really do tell a story."
The New York Times' Stephen Holden says, "Beyond its blindingly colorful palate, the pleasures to be gleaned from ['Second Best'] derive from watching its eminent, mostly British cast ham it up while trying to inflate dramatic molehills into mountains. … [F]or die-hard Anglophiles whose hearts go pitter-pat over actresses awarded the title Dame, it won't really matter what the film's most famous returnees say or do, as long as they chew the scenery."
On the other hand, Holden says, there's a "lack of coherence and narrative momentum," and "with no real story to tell, only so much can be done."
Entertainment Weekly's Chris Nashawaty gives the sequel a B- grade and agrees with Zacharek that it earns its "Second Best" title. "Which isn't to say that the new film isn't sweet and funny and winning … it's all of those things," Nashawaty writes. "With Dames Maggie Smith and Judi Dench lobbing wickedly bitchy verbal grenades back and forth, how could it not be? But it's also predictable, corny, and mild."
Corniness aside, critics seem to appreciate the cast's charms. Variety's Peter Debruge writes, "It's not so common to find an ensemble of this caliber so enthusiastic to work together, and that chemistry comes across." He adds, "For a film conceived without any chance of a sequel in mind, 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' actually lends itself surprisingly well to being extended, mostly because the cast make their characters so lively, we're happy for the chance to spend more time with them."