`Bride': A comedy of manners goes bad

February 25, 2005|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

It hasn't been a good few months for that once-hot movie property Jane Austen. First, the screen adapters of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason truncated the parallels to Austen's Persuasion that gave the chick-lit novel some lucidity and weight. (You wouldn't notice unless you read the book - which I did only after I saw the movie.)

And if Austen's Pride and Prejudice provided a sturdy comic backbone to Bridget Jones's Diary, it can't save Bride and Prejudice, a movie as silly as its title.

Gurinder Chadha, director of that international cornball hit Bend It Like Beckham (2003), transfers the plot to an Indian town and adds Bollywood-style musical gyrations, complete with songs whose lyrics verge on pidgin-English. The absolute worst: "No Life Without Wife."

Once again, a lovable father and over-anxious mother strive to marry off four daughters to suitors with healthy incomes. But Chadra's introduction of cross-cultural tensions only adds an unwonted soupcon of buffoonery.

This film's equivalent of Austen's heroine Elizabeth Bennett, Lalita Bakshi (Aishwarya Rai), chides the movie's American version of Darcy (Martin Henderson), a hotel-owner with an eye on an Indian property, for his economic-cultural imperialism. Too bad the movie's depiction of the Indian middle class, the Anglo-Indian upper-crust, and America top to bottom is irredeemably bumptious. The comedy of manners becomes strictly a comedy of bad manners.

Austen completists may have fun charting all the references to the book, since Chadra duplicates the characters and story. But Elizabeth Bennett wasn't knock-dead gorgeous like Rai's Lalita (Rai was Miss World in 1994). And Chadra pitches everything so broadly that when she wants to satirize a really foolish man, an Indian who's gone all Southern Californian, you laugh out of embarrassment, not pleasure. Or, maybe, you leave.

Bride and Prejudice

Starring Aishwarya Rai and Martin Henderson

Directed by Gurinder Chadha

Released by Miramax

Rated PG-13

Time 110 minutes

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