It's A Wonderful Afterlife

It's A Wonderful Afterlife


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Opening with a scene reminscent of Se7en and quickly exploding into slapstick, It's A Wonderful Afterlife looks like it's destined to become one of those painful Wayans brothers spoofs with no imagination of its own. It doesn't but it is still probably best appreciated by 12-year-olds, many of whom will love the toilet humour and bursts of extreme silliness that will distract and annoy older viewers. This is a film that doesn't know what it wants to be - comedy, horror, romance or social critique. In trying to have it all ways it totally loses the plot. It's fortunate to have some excellent actors on hand to pick up the pieces.

Goldy Notay is Roopi, warm and personable, strong-willed and beautiful, too, though we're not supposed to notice it because she's fat. Despaired of by her mother's friends and acquaintances, who don't think she's good enough to find a husband, she spends her time working in a women's refuge and doing a fairly good job of making her own way in life, but this doesn't ease the disappointment of her mother (Shabana Azmi). In fact, such is the mother's frustration that she takes violent action against some of her daughter's critics. This results in her being followed around by a troupe of ghosts who continually bicker and distract her, though they gradually become more sympathetic to her plight. Meanwhile, the detective leading the murder investigations sends his handsome young deputy Raj (Sendhil Ramamurthy) undercover to find out what's going on in 'the community'. When Raj and Roopi meet it becomes clear that something is going to change.

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In places genuinely witty, in others imbecilic, this is a film that feels like two plots tacked together. There's real chemistry between the two young leads and Roopi is the kind of character one can really feel for, reminiscent of Daisy out of Spaced. But the supernatural stuff is far too extensive and poorly thought out, like Shakespeare on a bad day. Azmi has moments when she demonstrates what a capable actress she is and conveys very effectively the importance to her of a cultural viewpoint often trivialised in Western culture, but often she seems to be floundering, out of her depth amid the slapstick, and struggling with clumsily written lines. Director Chadha's acute instinct for observational comedy, which has served her so well in the past, delivers in places but is too often swamped by a style he's far less capable of handling.

In the process of recounting its unwieldy story, the film passes through a minefield of race and ethnicity related comedy, and by and large gets away with it. Its jokes about curry are typical of London Asian humour and are presented in clear contrast to ostensibly similar jokes made by Raj's white colleagues which have very different connotations. Sally Hawkins is wonderful as Roopi's best friend, who has spent six months in India with a guru, changed her name, devoted herself to astrology and numerology and gone looking for her soulmate in a manner that seems destined for disaster; it's an opportunity to joke about Western views of Indian culture which never becomes spiteful or loses its concern for a vulnerable character.

The problem is that whatever you find to like in this film you're almost certain to find other aspects of it extremely irritating. Even the kids who love the food fight scenes will probably cover their eyes during the kissy bits. It's trying to please too many people and result is a mess. One can only hope that the capable cast find better opportunities soon.

Reviewed on: 12 Apr 2010
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A middle class suburban widow would kill to see her daughter married - literally!
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Owen Van Spall **

Director: Gurinder Chadha

Writer: Paul Mayeda Berges, Gurinder Chadha

Starring: Goldy Notay, Sendhil Ramamurthy, Shabana Azmi, Sally Hawkins, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Shaheen Khan, Zoë Wanamaker, Jimi Mistry, Don Warrington

Year: 2010

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: UK


Sundance 2010

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