Like many #Millenials, I don’t wear a watch, and contra the hopes and dreams of Tim Cook, I don’t plan to start any time soon. I used to wear a watch, though, and one thing I miss about it as a film critic is using it as an informal heuristic of how much I’m enjoying a movie – generally speaking, the more often I check my watch, the more bored I am. I can, and do, use my smartphone for this purpose, the only issue being the movie studios’ extreme and frankly pathetic paranoia over unauthorized recording and transmission of their films prior to opening weekend. For those of you who haven’t been to an early screening of a film, it’s generally pretty great since there aren’t any trailers or commercials; plus, they tend to be free, which is also pretty great. One funny feature, though, is how they are preceded by vigorous warnings by often-hapless theater security ensuring us that even the suspicion of recording the movie is cause for immediate and unappealable expulsion from the theater. Being so dismissed would be embarrassing under any circumstances but doubly so if you have to explain to your editor that, whoops, Snapchatting your mom or whatever got you the boot and now you can’t review the movie you were supposed to review. I’ve never actually seen anyone kicked out of a film screening, perhaps because I’ve seen so few movies any normal human would ever want to go to the effort to defy copyright law to liberate, but still, why run that risk just to learn the time?
All this is to say that I try to be judicious in when I slip my phone juuuust far enough out of my pocket to check just how long its been since I last synchronized my intuition of the passage of time with the cold, hard reality of the broadcast from NIST-F1. Really, I try to do it as little as possible, so believe me when I say that, when slogging through The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, I had an unprecedented moment when I checked the time on my phone only to see it displaying the identical reading to when I last checked it. Maybe time is an illusion, maybe not, but boy did it feel real in that theater. I almost left to ask the publicists whether they hadn’t, in fact, swapped in a misplaced print of Sátántangó. Then I pondered whether maybe there was some sort of gravitational event in the theater, a la Interstellar, that was causing time to pass differently for us. In the end, though, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, more than anything, seemed more than anything like a genuine effort from all involved to prove Xeno’s paradox through brute force; the most surprising thing about the movie is that it ever ended at all. Maybe it didn’t. Maybe I’m still there.
If you’ve seen the first BEMH, which believe it or not I have but really I’d be pretty surprised if any of BYT’s readership has, you know that a bunch of elderly British people, portrayed by every elderly British actor you know, retire to India only to discover that, hey, they’re young at heart, and also India is different from England! Well, they got the band back together, along with a few new additions, most notably Rajesh Tailang, who starred in last year’s haunting, brilliant, heartbreaking Siddharth. Please see that movie, not this one. Also, David Strathairn is in this one, he’s generally pretty good but he only has like two scenes so whatever. And also that guy from Days of Heaven, I’d been wondering what happened to him.
BEMH 2: Judgment Day has several structural problems, and solves exactly none of them; in fact, it actively makes most of them worse than they had to be. The first film got much of its juice from the culture shock trope; without it, their plots seem aimless and boring if not offensive, slapdash justification to try and make another $137 million on a shoestring budget. Since the emotional heart of the first – how the elderly can learn to carpe diem and live it up – is also a solved problem, the plot points here are mostly perfunctory and baffling, never touching on anything resembling a consistent or meaningful theme. Cramming in more characters means none of the myriad mini-plots gets enough oxygen, and since they all wander mostly independently of each other, compounded by the fact that they’re mostly dull or insipid, the film has all the momentum of taxiing around the runway for two hours.
The treatment of India and its people and society, a problematic but perhaps forgivable element in the original film, is handled terribly here as well; never a moment goes by when a problem facing Indian characters isn’t hijacked as part of a white person’s all-important character development. It’s offensive, sure, but also smothering, as the Indian characters are the ones whose plots had the actual chance to be interesting. Their plots are about the varying intersections of poverty and class divisions, complex familial relations, romantic jealousy, public health, and globalization, but all are rendered incoherent at best by the way they’re shoehorned into instruments of elderly white people feel-goodery. That problem, in turn, is compounded by the fact that most of the performances by the white actors feels phoned in, which blows any chance for their plots to be interesting. This means the energy and talent of the Indian and Indian-British performers is wasted; I’m just going to plug the first two seasons of Skins here because Dev Patel was in them and they’re some of the best television ever made, maybe I should’ve plugged this earlier when anyone was still reading this review, because why are you still reading this review at this point? Oh well.
Nothing makes much sense in 2 Best 2 Marigold, and nothing really happens that anyone should care about. The only thing really worth noting about the whole affair is that, fundamentally, the success of the first film and the failure of this is an interesting reflection of two broader trends. The first is the increasing prevalence of the elderly in American and global society, and the degree to which they, just like everyone else, want to see their concerns, their interests, and their stories represented on-screen, and respond accordingly. The second is that Hollywood is incapable of learning any lessons from surprise successes other than to print sequels, prequels, and spin-offs of those successes until all life, soul, and art is sucked dry from them. In this case, it took exactly one follow-up to complete the process of inevitable vampiric death by corporatization, but that surely won’t stop the machine, like clockwork, from pushing Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 3-D In IMAX™ on us in 2018. The final irony is that, as Hollywood makes more and more interminable rent-seeking films about the elderly wringing the most out of their dwindling years, the single biggest thing the elderly could do to squander their precious time on Earth is see this stupid movie and what are sure to be its many stupid cousins.