Couples Retreat is a comedy about three couples - Vince Vaughn and Malin Akerman, Jon Favreau and Kristin Davis, Faizon Love and Kali Hawk - who, in order to help save the marriage of their friends Jason Bateman and Kristin Bell, agree to travel to a tropical-island resort for a vacation. Once on the island they meet the island's patron, Sctanley (Peter Serafinowicz), who forces all the couples to engage in all manner of unusual "therapy sessions"... with hilarious results. The film is directed by Peter Billingsley, still best known for his performance as Ralphie in A Christmas Story when he was 12 years old, and has an original score by last year's double Oscar-winner, Indian composer A.R. Rahman.
For him to choose a throwaway romantic comedy like Couples Retreat as his first mainstream Hollywood feature might seem a little peculiar, but it's actually not that much of a stretch. Throughout his career in India Rahman has mixed scoring serious dramas and action films with comedies and musicals, and he's simply expanded his repertoire to include mainstream American films. It also helps tremendously that parts of Couples Retreat are genuinely lovely. The tour-de-force cue is the "Jason & Cynthia Suite", an emotional, full-orchestral piece that any Hollywood composer would be proud to call their own. Building from intimate acoustic guitars, it gradually swells and grows into a wonderful, spine-tingling romantic celebration of love and life, and dispels entirely the notion that Rahman is a one-trick pony, and finally shows American audiences why he is so revered and in demand in his homeland.
The rest of the score similarly impresses; "Tour of the Villas" restates the lush part of the love theme with a bubbling tropical percussion undercurrent and a wholly unexpected erhu solo, "The Waterfall" gives the main theme a shimmering, enticing gloss; "Jason and Cynthia Piano Theme" has a sensitive solo piano, cello and oboe recapitulation; and the conclusive "Animal Spirits" is a toe-tapping, hand-clapping, wholly intoxicating calypso celebration. As if that were not enough, "Itinerary" adopts an almost mock-Russian aspect with its waltz-time seriousness, "Undress" revisits the striking sounds of India with which Rahman is most associated; "Sharks" has the choppy string writing reminiscent of John Williams in the score's one action cue; and the various cues which feature the mysterious Marcel ("Meeting Marcel", the superb "Intervention") make use of throat singers, exotic woodwinds, dark and tumultuous string writing, and generally oppressive atmosphere.
Even the songs are really good; "Sajna", the opening track, features a lovely performance by R&B vocalist P.J Morton and a dream-like texture clearly modeled on Latika's theme from Slundog Millionaire; "Kurukuru Kan" is a similarly exotic, yet soothing African jam with an Indian lilt; and "Na Na" is a reggae-inflected good time sunshine song reminiscent of artists such as Pato Banton or Shaggy. It's impossible to overstate how impressive this score really is, and anyone who figured Rahman to be a Santaolalla-style flash in the pan unworthy of his Oscar would do well to seek this out and see what kind of music he is actually capable of writing.