In a small town in India, Lalita (Aishwarya Rai) is living a solitary life while her family frets over whom she will marry. At her sister's wedding, Lalita meets Will Darcy (Martin Henderson), a dense American who is smitten with Lalita but always seems to insult her when he speaks. When competition for Lalita's heart arrives in the form of hunky Johnny (Daniel Gillies), Darcy finds that he must speak from his heart to woo Lalita, while she struggles to find love amidst her parents' feverish matchmaking schemes.
Ever since Mira Nair's "Monsoon Wedding" crashed the independent film scene three years ago, Hollywood has been desperately chasing imports to cash in on the rage for all things India. With "The Guru," "Bollywood/Hollywood," "Bend it like Beckham," and even Nair's own stab at injecting a little of her homeland into the chilly "Vanity Fair," the attempt to bring a little eastern flavor into western films hasn't been artistically successful recently. Gurinder Chadha, director of "Beckham," has decided to climb that mountain yet again with her new Bollywood musical, "Bride & Prejudice" (IMDb listing).
Loosely adapted from the Jane Austin novel "Pride and Prejudice," this new incarnation of the timeless tale of longing is all dressed up in vibrant colors, elephants, and gorgeous cast members, but is lacking joy. Depressingly labored, "Bride" is a perfect example of a filmmaker in way over her head. Chadha is questing to bring Bollywood staples (musical numbers, endless arguments on status and marriage, costuming galore) to English-speaking shores, but her efforts are in vain. This material just doesn't translate, and out of context with the wonderful, vibrant Indian film industry, "Bride" just looks silly and winded. Chadha attempts to keep her dusty tale moving forward with gaudy, tuneless musical numbers, but they are all so poorly choreographed, and eventually (and mystifyingly) abandoned, that all they add to the production are headache-inducing moments, not magic. If Chadha had a vision for "Bride," none of it comes across on the screen.
Possibly Chadha's biggest error in judgment is found in her casting. Leads Martin Henderson and Bollywood staple Aishwarya Rai are certainly handsome individuals, but their extremely opposite approaches to performing torpedo their chemistry even before it has a chance to coagulate. Rai is a bright-eyed ingenue, anxious to overact whenever she can. I give her credit for such enthusiasm, but it quickly becomes too much. Henderson, the perma-stubbled actor who was wooden in "The Ring" and comatose in "Torque," doesn't have anything to add to "Bride" outside of his good looks. Henderson doesn't even try; instead he stumbles blandly through his scenes with a confused look that I'm not convinced was acting. Rai and Henderson's scenes together are torture, and utterly lacking the critical romantic core the story is built upon.
Outside of some odd cameos by singer Ashanti and "Gilmore Girls" star Alexis Bledel, the rest of "Bride" is a disaster, ranging from crushingly unfunny comic relief (actor Nitlin Ganatra) to supporting characters that are given threadbare screentime, yet factor heavily into the story. I assume Chadha was hoping to achieve the ultimate East meets West musical comedy, but in almost every way imaginable, she has failed in her mission.
Filmfodder Grade: D-