Bride & Prejudice (2004) / Musical-Romance
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for some sexual references
Running Time: 103 min.
Cast: Aishwarya Rai, Martin Henderson, Daniel Gillies, Naveen Andrews, Namrata Shimrodkar, Indira Varma, Nadira babbar, Anupam Kher, Meghna Kothari, Peeya Rai, Chowdhary, Nitin Chandra Ganatra, Sonati Kulkami, Ashanti, Alexis Bledel, Marsha Mason
Director: Gurinder Chadha
Screenplay: Paul Mayeda Burges, Gurinder Chadha (inspired by the novel, "Pride and Prejudice", by Jane Austen)
Review published February 11, 2005
Filmmaker Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham, What's Cooking?) continues her trend on making lighthearted and colorful comedies that get by on good cheer and likeability, with Bride and Prejudice offering up her most ambitious film yet. It is, as you'd guess from the title, an extremely loose adaptation of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice", but this version is set in the modern day, and what's more, it is conceived of as a Bollywood-style musical. Chadha delivers in one very key area -- it is quite lovely to look at. However, once you go beyond the appearance of the film, there just isn't much there to entertain, and sadly, what should have been a whimsical romantic musical feels like no real effort was put into making anything more than a cotton candy dessert film that tosses in color schemes, breezy musical numbers, and toothless confrontations in an effort to make a nearly two hour Hallmark card for India and its style of moviemaking.
Aishwarya Rai stars as Lalita, the second oldest among four sisters in an Indian family, whose mother so desperately wants to marry them all off to financially successful husbands. The eldest daughter is due to get hitched very soon, which means Lalita is now feeling extra pressure as the oldest to not have a suitor already lined up. While potential husbands are directed her way, Lalita has been exchanging goo-goo eyes with Will Darcy (Martin Henderson, Torque), the handsome and rich American that has an attraction, but holds back his feelings and efforts.
To put it simply, Bride and Prejudice just doesn't work unless you really want it to work, and to do that, you'll have to be in the mood to completely be enrapt with the film's extravagant displays and featherweight delivery. Outside of the look of the film, the pickings are mighty slim. It is a musical, as you'd expect from a movie that is trying to capture a Bollywood style, but it's not a very good one. Some of the choreography is solid, but it is the soundtrack that proves to be the big weakness. These songs are lackluster at best, with a pop tinge that smacks of "homogenized so that no one will find them offensive". What's worse, these songs are so bland, they are completely unmemorable -- which come to think of it, proves to be a blessing of sorts. Sitting here now, I can remember the gist of the songs, but I'll be damned if I can remember how they sound.
The humor proves to be just as flavorless, as is the romance. Sparks certainly aren't flying here, not only between the two leads, but also there is little tangible tension in the script worth noting. "Pride and Prejudice" has been adapted innumerable times, so there is obviously some appeal to film audiences, but any remarkable quality to Austen's masterwork is buried under costumes, locales, and the constant need to sugarcoat everything.
Bride & Prejudice is a fits-and-starts sort of film that does seem to find its groove once in a while, but never can maintain it for very long. It does what it does in the prettiest of fashions, although you may find yourself gagging from the visual overload. As an English-language Bollywood concoction, it does stand atop the other failed attempts (see The Guru), but if you're going to take what's good about a genre of films, you should take care not to bring the bad as well. It may be breezy and fun to watch in its own limited, mostly vapid way, but there's little sense to be made out of this mix of international sensibilities.
©2005 Vince Leo