Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A Place to Die, a Place to Live

Sequels are always inherently problematic, and so they seldom live up to the expectations generated by the original.  For one thing, we already know the principal characters. So, rather than watch them develop, instead we are more likely watching them behave and act in already quite predictable ways. On the other hand, if we really like them, if we liked the original film, then we will want to keep liking them and the familiarity of the setting, story, and characters may be comforting. All of that seems true of The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which I saw this afternoon. It is a sequel to the 2012 hit film, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which I enjoyed so much that I never thought twice about wanting to see its sequel. 

With the addition of Richard Gere, who plays an American hotel inspector, masquerading as a novelist, the cast is largely the same super-talented, predominantly British ensemble that made the original such a success. And, as I noted above, they continue to behave more or less as one would expect them to. Indeed, they sequel even brought back Penelope Wilton (now perhaps better known as Cousin Isobel on Downton Abbey), whose somewhat unhappy character had returned home to England in the first show. She reappears in the sequel, remaining largely unchanged in her character (although, apparently, a bit older and wiser). So there is not all that much that is really new in the sequel. The utterly improbable story continues in the sequel more or less along the same lines set out in the original, with Maggie Smith and Judi Dench performing particularly poignant roles.

On the other hand, it is a wonderful story, and the characters are enormously endearing. So their return is quite welcome. I was quite happy to continue to follow Dev Patel's professional and personal struggles and successes, and the continued adventures of his hotel's elderly residents. Now that they have all settled into their new lives, it is interesting and enjoyable watching the subtle ways they have adapted and are being affected in turn.

It's a good film and an entertaining one, but what moved me both in the original and in the sequel is how it portrays not just the problems associated with aging but its opportunities. A bunch of British old-age pensioners who had very little left to live for find a whole new life - and even romance - in a foreign land. What seems on its face just a somewhat cheaper place to die becomes a place to experience new life, new work (and renewed value in one's work), and, inevitably, new opportunities for romance and even love. For all its comedic elements, the two The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel movies mount a serious challenge to the contemporary cult of youth and health. And they do so in the best possible way - by making the elderly residents not only rediscover work and romance, but by integrating their stories with the story the young couple who operate the hotel. Their wedding is not just the principal episode around which everything else ends up revolving. Thanks to the participation of the hotel's senior community, the wedding becomes what every wedding in theory ought to be - a celebration of how the human story continues, with each generation building on what it has received from the previous ones, in the process enabling the older generation to face leaving the scene with a renewed sense of self-worth and with peace..

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