Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Elephants & Laughter
Director: John Madden

Cast: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Dev Patel, Richard Gere, David Strathairn, Celia Imrie, Penelope Wilton, Diana Hardcastle, Ronald Pickup, Tamsin Greig, Shazad Latif, Tina Desai, Lillet Dubey

Review by James Colt Harrison

Oh, what joy there is in watching outstanding actors at the top of their profession! No screen actors today can match Judi Dench and Maggie Smith when it comes to scene stealing. It’s done with such ease, such cleverness, and just a little slyly without malice. But, there it is---one can’t look at anybody else on screen, and pity the poor actor who must appear in a scene with either of them.

In a second helping of the Marigold Hotel saga that is imaginatively called The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, the story continues about the snow-on-the-roof-gang who has moved from England to India to run and live in a hotel owned by young Indian star Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire). Maggie Smith, as Muriel, runs the front desk with an iron will. She’s just as pungent with a razor-sharp quip here as she has proven on television’s Downton Abbey.

The old gang is still here---with the exception of Tom Wilkinson who had an early demise in the first film--- and all are seeking different things for their Golden Years. Dev Patel plays Sonny Kapoor, the overly exuberant proprietor of the previously shabby Marigold Hotel. We see it a few years after where the first film left off, and there have been some physical improvements made. His ambition has never flagged, and now he seeks financial help to expand his empire by buying another hotel with the advice of an American banker, played smoothly by Oscar® nominated David Strathairn. Patel’s character of Sonny is also enmeshed in the very complicated process of an Indian marriage to his long-time fiancĂ© Sunaina, as played by famed Bollywood dancing star Tina Desai.

Sonny’s scheme of buying another hotel and planning his marriage are all throw into an uproar with the arrival of Guy Chambers, played by silver fox Richard Gere, posing as a novelist. Sonny believes he is a spy planted by the investment firm that will approve his application for money. In what is almost a French farce, plans go awry when Chambers meets and becomes smitten with Sonny’s gorgeous mother, veteran Indian superstar Lillet Dubey. Mom, of course, doesn’t approve of anything, least of all Sonny’s ambitious plans. She is open, however, to a little romance with the handsome Mr. Chambers. Sonny is horrified his mother has any romance left in her, and reacts hilariously to her newly-awakened sexual needs.

Everything dissolves into an uproar as the wedding plans overwhelm Sonny. Evelyn and Douglas (Dench and Bill Nighy) can’t decide to throw caution to the wind and have an affair, and Norman and Carole ( Ronald Pickup and Diana Hardcastle) wade through the choppy waters of matrimony. Old maid Madge (Celia Imrie) comes into her own with two gentlemen persuing her. With the cast having many years of training on the London sage, each and every character portrayed is a gem of subtlety and depth.

There are many laughs in the film as it is essentially a bright and cheerful story. There are moments of pathos where appropriate, but in general our spirits are lifted by the youthful enthusiasm of Sonny’s ambitions and by the wisdom of the elder cast members. As a bonus, we are treated to the obligatory Bollywood musical sequence at the end as it celebrates Sonny’s elaborate marriage to Sunaina. Dance! Dance! Dance!

Dame Judi Dench is Britain’s treasure. She’s also globally loved for her iconic performances in such world-wide hits as the James Bond thriller Skyfall in which she played agent M, and Philomena, in which she played a mother looking for the son she had given up at birth. It was an Oscar®-nominated role directed by Stephen Frears. She was nominated for an Oscar® for her role as Queen Victoria in Mrs. Brown and won the Academy Award® as Best Supporting Actress in Shakespeare in Love. The current Queen Elizabeth recognized Dench’s numerous contributions to the theater and films by bestowing the Order of the British Empire in 1970 and the DBE (Dame of the British Empire) in 1988.

Maggie Smith has captured world-wide attention as the matriarch and Dowager Countess on TV’s hit series Downton Abbey, which has brought her new young fans. She, herself, claimed the prestigious DBE when she became a Dame in 1990. Her stage debut was at the Oxford Playhouse in 1952 and her Broadway appearance in New Faces of 56 brought her to the attention of American audiences. She appeared in many British stage productions with Laurence Olivier and appeared in many plays at the National Theatre of Great Britain. When she starred in the hit 1969 20th Century Fox film The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, it kicked off her long and varied film career both in the United States and in Britain. For this part she won the Oscar® and BAFTA Awards. She also picked up another Oscar® as Best Supporting Actress in 1978’s California Suite.

Young Dev Patel gathered rave reviews for his performance in the  Academy Award®-winning hit Slumdog Millionaire from director Danny Boyle. The film won Best Picture and Best Director among it’s 8 wins in 2009. Patel was singled out for Best Breakthrough Performance by the National Board of Review and the Broadcast  Film Critic’s Choice Award for Best Young Actor. After starring in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Patel turned his interest toward television and starred with Jeff Daniels in the HBO hit The Newsroom.  His next film is Chappie with Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver.

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