Hitch and Bride & Prejudice (review)

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Love’s a Hitch

It looks like a chick flick, but don’t let that fool you, guys: When you get dragged along to Hitch this weekend, because it’s Valentine’s Day and for some reason you have to do whatever your ladyfriend wants because some greeting-card company has forced a holiday upon us, you will discover that this is actually every man’s fantasy.

No, not that fantasy: the other fantasy that every man has, that he deserves a supermodel as a girlfriend, no matter how much of a schlub he is. C’mon, admit it: Every ordinary schmoe thinks he rates having some five-eleven, 110-pound bottle blonde with fake tits and no waist on his arm even if he’s four-eleven and 210 pounds and works at Kinko’s.
And Hitch will put the stamp of approval on that fantasy: of course a supermodel would want to date a lumpy, balding, clumsy oaf. No, wait: she wouldn’t just want to date him, she’d find his boorish idiocy downright adorable. What’s more, Hitch will propose that there’s really nothing wrong with men at all, no matter how sloppy or incoherent or boring they are — it’s women who ruin everything by just not giving sloppy, incoherent, boring guys a chance. So guys, relax, don’t worry, everything is fine: It’s perfectly okay for you to decide based on physical appearance alone that you want a date with a certain gal, and — as Hitch will confirm — it’s perfectly okay to condemn women for rejecting you on the same basis.

*sigh* Double standards never go away — they just keep shifting so that there’s always some reason to berate women for behaving like men.

(Oh, and guys, don’t worry — you won’t be forced to watch any fat ugly chicks here or anything like that. No one is going to make you think you might have to settle for less than centerfold perfection, and for gawd’s sake, you will not have to endure the spectacle of some fat ugly over-40 chick getting lucky with, oh, George Clooney. That’s a fantasy Hollywood would never touch.)

See, Alex “Hitch” Hitchens engineers meetings between extraordinary women and the ordinary joes who lust after them, and he’s so successful that he’s become practically an urban legend in New York — the guy who makes dreams come true for men. Apparently none of the gorgeous women ever fail to be tricked into falling for their stalkers. Oh, the film goes out of its way to pretend that there’s nothing exploitive or wrong or icky about any of this, going so far as to cast the thoroughly charming Will Smith (Shark Tale, I, Robot) as Hitch. He’s like the new Tom Hanks, the regular, wholesome guy whom everyone loves, even your mom, so he can get away with saying things like “With no guile and no game there’s no girls,” and everyone still goes “Awwww, he’s sooo cute, isn’t he? And a nice guy, too.”

I say “extraordinary women,” but really, it’s more like “extraordinary-looking women,” because the movie — written by Kevin Bisch, who has a fairly dim view of humanity, men and women alike, as easily manipulated automatons, and directed by Andy Tennant (Sweet Home Alabama, Ever After) as if he were slapping up a paint-by-numbers — doesn’t bother imbuing them with any personality whatsoever. In fact, talk about supermodels: supermodel Amber Valletta (Duplex, What Lies Beneath) plays the much lusted-after object of desire of Hitch’s latest client, Albert (Kevin James: The King of Queens) — she’s Allegra Cole, a wealthy something-or-other whose every move ends up in the newspaper gossip columns, he’s one of her team of accountants. And not only does the movie make much of Albert’s “adorable” little quirks, like how he cannot eat without spilling half his food down his considerable frontage, but it avoids giving her any kind of character, stripping her of any kind of spine or adult fortitude so that Albert can speak up for her in a bid to attract her attention. Her physical attractiveness is all that’s needed to recommend her, at least as far as we can see. He drools reflexively, Alex tells him precisely what to do in order to make her knees go weak, they live happily ever after. That thing I said about people being automatons? This is what I’m talking about. Magic, mystery, chemistry, alchemy? Not in the world of Hitch — it’s all about process.

Like how by the time we get to Will Smith doing his trademark stumbling-over-words thing, it just feels contrived, not charming, like it usually is. Because there’s no real, living, breathing character behind it — Alex, a confirmed bachelor, is supposed to have fallen for Sara (Eva Mendes: Out of Time, Once Upon a Time in Mexico), but we don’t believe it. It’s just all romantic-comedy process, and it forces the also-usually-charming Mendes to be screechingly histrionic and Smith to force the tongue-tied besottedness because hey, it’s the end of the movie and time for their do-you-want-me-or-not showdown.

Oh, and guys, I forgot to mention: Don’t be fooled, either, by the sophisticated sheen this movie is giving off. It may think it’s Tracy-and-Hepburn, but with all the cartoonish slapstick — like how people don’t know they have no pants on, or don’t realize they have an arm around someone else’s throat in an attempt to throttle — this is more Three Stooges than anything else.

So romantic.

Austen powers
There’s lot of fantasy at work in Bride & Prejudice, too, though here it’s of the all-singing, all-dancing variety, and it’s indescribably wonderful, the kind of fantasy you want to hop in and join. And mostly that’s because the characters here — unlike in Hitch — are genuine, warm human beings, not perfect by any means, but messed up in recognizable ways — their faults and flaws are those of real people, not of cartoon characters.

And that’s because director Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham) — cowriting with Paul Mayeda Berges — was brilliant enough to use Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice as her basis for a crosscultural romantic comedy. Austen’s perceptiveness about human behavior was so keen that she saw through all the trappings of time and place to hone in on the fundamentals of how men and women think and feel, so that — as Bride demonstrates so splendidly — you can move the story up two hundred years to the 21st century and change the ostensible conflicts from those of economic class to those of globally diverse culture… and it all still works.

So Elizabeth Bennet becomes Lalita Bakshi (the almost unbearably gorgeous Aishwarya Rai), eldest daughter of a fairly well-off family of Amritsa, India — and when she declares that she will wed only for love, Mrs. Bakshi (Nadira Babbar) despairs that she will ever get her four daughters off her hands and into respectable marriages. So Mr. Darcy becomes Will Darcy (the delicious Martin Henderson: The Ring), a wealthy American hotelier who’s less than culturally sensitive and a bit brusque — and when he meets Lalita, sparks fly… though mostly of the annoyed and infuriated variety.

You already know the rest of the story — Darcy is, as he has been for two centuries, the perfect match, the perfect foil for an intelligent woman, as Lalita will eventually come to realize. But just as Austen only gets better the more you read her, there’s no excuse for not indulging in the exquisite perfection of Bride, which is as funny and as wise as Austen’s book… and maybe even more so, just for pointing out so wittily how little the prerequisites of female respectability have changed since Austen’s time. (“Don’t say anything too intelligent,” Mrs. Bakshi warns her daughters before meeting a man who might want to marry one of them. Unlike Hitch, though, which celebrates them, Bride laments, as Pride did, the constraints and inequities of male/female dynamics.) And the totally immersive fantasy of the Bollywood musical — this is a spoof of the genre as much as is one of the species itself — is irresistible: the riot of confetti color, the soaring emotion, the infectious music. You’ll want to get up and dance in the aisles.

Bride & Prejudice is one of those rare films that I never wanted to be over — I sat through the end credits out of a sheer inability to let the film slip away from me. If Chadha got it in her head to redo all of Austen like this, I’d be there for all of it.

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers
rated PG-13 for language and some strong sexual references
official site | IMDB

Bride & Prejudice
viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics
rated PG-13 for some sexual references
official site | IMDB

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