Movie review by Greg Carlson
Over the closing credits of “Bride and Prejudice,” a quick cameo featuring movie mogul-bulldog Harvey Weinstein reminds viewers that when it comes to filmmaking, it’s all about the Benjamins – which means that quality more than occasionally takes a back seat to the sheer force of marketing a seemingly good idea. A Bollywood-style re-imagining of “Pride and Prejudice” looks great on paper, but the execution of Gurinder Chadha’s follow-up to her winning “Bend It Like Beckham” never gets a shot on goal. Coarse, simple-minded, and nearly dead on arrival, “Bride and Prejudice” is a major step backward for its director.
Trying much too hard to be up-to-the-minute and old fashioned at the same time, “Bride and Prejudice” brings the rudiments of Jane Austen’s classic story to India, where Lalita Bakshi (gorgeous star Aishwarya Rai) contends with the “marriage fever” that seems to have gripped everyone around her. Along with her three eligible sisters, Lalita faces daily pressure from her strident mother to find the right match, but the young woman knows in her heart that she must buck custom and find love before consenting to marry anyone. At – where else? – a colorful wedding dance, Lalita meets Amerian hotel tycoon Will Darcy (Martin Henderson) and the opposites immediately attract, even though the road to their eventual coupling proves rocky.
Henderson, unfortunately, cannot negotiate the subtleties required to play his part, and the blandly handsome performer fails to ignite any sparks with his lovely co-star. It doesn’t help that the movie strictly adheres to the chaste Bollywood rule that eschews onscreen passion – even one forbidden kiss on the mouth might have given the story just the jolt it needed. Lalita and Will bicker foolishly over high-minded idealism (she chastises him for wanting to spoil her beloved India with a tourist hotel, even as Chadha’s overuse of aerial establishing shots plays like a travel video).
The dialogue is embarrassingly awful throughout, and even the usually unsinkable musical numbers pop up awkwardly, with seemingly little thought given to their placement in the film. At one point, a trip to the beaches of Goa promises an exotic change of pace (Lalita’s mother even clucks that it will provide an opportunity to break out the swimming suits), but Chadha keeps her performers covered up, instead directing our attention to an almost surreal spectacle featuring American R&B princess Ashanti.
The misunderstandings that pepper the skeletal plot seem more at home in a lame sit-com, and too many of the weak machinations could have been solved with a simple dose of candid truth rather than the forced concealments that ridiculously lead to near-panic (Lalita’s little sister takes up with a rival of Will’s who turns out – to nobody’s surprise – to be a dastardly cad). “Bride and Prejudice” shifts its action to London and Beverly Hills, but the geographic eye-candy remains as underutilized as Rai. Rai is already a big star in her native country, and given the right role, her charisma might allow her to make a mark on American cinema as well. Unfortunately, “Bride and Prejudice” is not the film that will do it.
This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 3/21/05.