The Second Worst Exotic Movie About Awkward Misunderstandings

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel image from Thecultden

Hollywood holds a very strange position in our society. On the one hand, it is an artist’s co-op, where hundreds of artists get together to produce that great work of artistic expression that is a film. On the other hand, it is a business, where a corporation employing hundreds of people spends millions of dollars to produce that mass-market product that is a film. It is both of these things simultaneously, with the art of film and the business of film constantly engaged in a tug-of-war for control of what films are made, how they are made, and what they look like once they are made.

Sometimes we wind up in a situation where the two sides work together and balance each other out, as with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Seabiscuit, the works of Alfred Hitchcock, or the very first Star Wars movie. However, it’s much more common for one side to clearly win out over the other to some degree. In the worst-case scenario, this can result in either bland, repetitive, overly formulaic summer blockbusters (if the business side dominates too much) or incomprehensible, pretentious, overly stylized art-house films (if the art side dominates too much). It’s a careful balancing act. Fortunately, this tension is usually somewhere hidden in the background, and doesn’t distract from the joy of watching a good movie. Unfortunately, there are some times where that tension rears its ugly head. Such is the case with what I call “Unnecessary Sequel Syndrome”.

Unnecessary Sequel Syndrome begins when an odd, unique, very special movie appears out of nowhere and captures something magical. Think films like Jaws, The Matrix, or Taken. Then, the businessmen who control how money is spent by the film studio think, “We’ve got a live one on our hands!” Since they are businessmen, they see films as investments, and they want a guaranteed return on their investment. Why wouldn’t they? It’s only natural.

So, they tell the studio to make more of the thing they just made. They want to repeat the success of that magical film with sequels. The problem is that you simply can’t repeat that magic. It’s not possible. The original film stands on its own merits, while any sequel will pale in comparison, be nothing but a disappointment, and in many cases take away from the magic of the original. But these are artistic arguments, not business arguments. The right thing to do from an artistic standpoint is leave the original film alone, but that decision would not make any business sense and a film producer who doesn’t try to capitalize on a good business opportunity won’t be a film producer for long. So, a slew of sequels are made, the studios pocket as much box-office gross as they can, and the goodwill of the fanbase of the magical original withers away as they get burned out.

To be clear, this doesn’t apply to all or even most movies. Plenty of movies are purpose-built to be franchises. The recent rise of comic book movies is practically tailor-made for the twenty-five-sequels-and-counting treatment, because the original comic books they are based on are serialized stories to begin with. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, on the other hand, was not purpose-built to be a franchise. It is exactly the kind of lightning-in-a-bottle movie that falls so easily into the Unnecessary Sequel Syndrome trap.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel image from Film Matters

The original movie in this case did a very good job with what it had. It was a film about a group of ageing British men and women who, for one reason or another, end up deciding to travel to India, and book into the titular hotel on the promise that it would be a luxurious place to stay, only to find out it is a run-down, falling apart, fixer-upper that hasn’t had much fixing yet. The resulting movie follows each of its main ensemble cast of characters as they all navigate this new environment, adapt, learn, grow, and change. It is a movie about how growing older isn’t necessarily the ending of one’s life, but can be the beginning of new potential.

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel undermines all of that from the very first few minutes. Each of the main characters from the first film now has what they wanted. The climax is over already. They’ve won. What story is there to tell now?

This is the Achilles’ heel of this film’s plot. The crutch it uses to make up for this is one of the most cringe-worthy plot devices known to humankind: The Awkward Misunderstanding. There can be no plot without a conflict to resolve, and none of the characters have any reason anymore to have a conflict unless one is forced upon them. Thus, this film becomes nothing but awkward misunderstanding after awkward misunderstanding. The sorts of conflicts that could be easily solved if these characters would just talk to each other about their true feelings or explain what is actually happening, but they don’t do this until the film’s third act just so that we can have a movie.

Not only that, but many of these awkward misunderstandings are either so predictable it hurts, just plain stupid, or both. For example, after one character gives a drunken rant and a huge tip to an auto rickshaw driver, the character thinks that he just accidentally hired the rickshaw driver to be his hit man.

Yes, that is a thing that happens in this movie.

Yes, that is a thing that happens in this movie.

That’s not to say that this movie doesn’t have some redeeming features. The music in this movie is great! I really like the soundtrack, and it is accompanied by some truly impressive dance sequences. The one-liners in this movie are spot-on, and made me laugh on any number of occasions. Maggie Smith fans will be happy to see that she is at her Maggie Smith-iest. There were a number of individual scenes that were really well-done, and I liked that the main focus of the film was on the hotel owner and his family, who I think were underdeveloped as characters in the original.

Even with all of these points in its favor, though, the film still feels like a let-down in comparison with the original. Maybe this is just my personal taste, but I absolutely detest the awkward misunderstanding trope in stories. They are embarrassing, they force the characters to do things that make no sense, and they are utterly predictable. You always know exactly how these plot-lines will end. I just find these sorts of stories unpleasant, and this film is full of them. I knew how this movie would end before the first act was even finished, and I spent the entire rest of the run-time just squirming as the inevitable bad jokes, stupid decisions, and social faux-pas hammered away until the ending I predicted arrived.

To top it all off, one of the most important characters makes a last-minute decision at the very, very end that comes out of nowhere and is never explained. I mean, I appreciate a plot twist or two to vary things up a bit and keep things from getting too predictable, but at least make it believable in context, and don’t put it at the very tail end of the movie after the climax.

In the end, unless you are a huge fan of Maggie Smith or Dame Judi Dench and simply must see every film they are in, I think this is a movie you can safely steer clear of. Especially if you are a fan of the original film. Of course, considering that The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has already scored a bigger opening weekend than its predecessor, I guess we can all look forward to the inevitable Third Best Exotic Marigold Hotel where the characters take on a drug kingpin or fight robots or something.