Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Last year, the protean director Michael Winterbottom made my top 20 with the unexpectedly hilarious and vastly underseen "The Trip," a mash-up of a buddy road comedy with the verbal one-upmanship of stars Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan, whose dueling impersonations of Michael Caine were alone worth the price of a ticket.
For his follow-up, he's chosen an adaptation (one of the loosest in film history) of Thomas Hardy's "Tess of the D'Ubervilles," set in India and starring Frieda Pinto as the title character, the eldest daughter of a poor village family, who works at a tourist resort. Jay (Riz Ahmed), the scion of a wealthy property manager, hits on Trishna at a dance and later, on his motorcycle, tracks her down just as some street toughs have started harassing her. (Everyone in this movie has a preternatural ability to find whomever they're looking for in any throng.)
When Jay offers Trishna 2,500 rupees a week to come work at his new resort some distance away from her family, her father tells her the money's too good to pass up. (Not that she minds. She puts on a cursory good-girl act, but is pretty much DTF as soon as he reveals his gym-toned body.) Of course, they quickly become lovers, and take a luxury apartment together, but she makes a revelation midway through the picture that instantly erects an insuperable wall between them.
From this point, Ahmed's performance takes a 180. He freezes up, not naturally or gradually but on a dime. This leads to an action on Trishna's part so far out of left field you'd have to climb into the stands. Amazingly, a second, even more ludicrous action follows shortly thereafter. I chuckled throughout "Trishna" thinking of Lou Lumenick's review in the New York Post, in which he decried Pinto's lack of dramatic range and noted that "she basically has two expressions" (I searched in vain for the second). But by the final, "Thelma & Louise"-style fade to white, I was howling.