With the romantic comedy getting increasingly tedious, recent entries seem to respond by either going back to basics or pushing the limits of the formulaic story into an almost meta commentary. The former describes Save the Date, one of my favorite movies of 2012. I’d like to think that Justin Zackham’s directorial debut The Big Wedding fits into the latter category—solid, if a bit predictable, and at least more reasonable than something like How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.
Zackham adapted the sitcom-y plot from the French/Swiss film Mon frère se marie, but there are plenty of very American touches in this new version: Divorced parents Don (Robert De Niro) and Ellie (Diane Keaton) have to pretend that they’re still married for the wedding of their adopted son Alejandro (Ben Barnes, who has really grown up). Why? Because his intensely religious biological mother is coming from Colombia and believes that divorce is a sin. Aiding in this farce are Don and Ellie’s other children Lyla (Katherine Heigl) and Jared (Topher Grace). And what about Don’s poor partner Bebe (Susan Sarandon), who gets demoted from live-in girlfriend to caterer?
With certain leading men like Tom Cruise or Ashton Kutcher, audiences know exactly what kind of movie they’re going into. You have that same shorthand with The Big Wedding, but tenfold. Everyone employs their usual shtick here, to an almost astonishing extent: Keaton is yet again exploring her sexuality, though without that infamous nude scene from Something’s Gotta Give; Heigl, rocking a short haircut, seems repulsed by babies, until you learn why; Amanda Seyfried is the blushing bride, except this time there are three mommies instead of three daddies like in Mamma Mia!; and even Robin Williams basically reprises his stern, abstinence-only reverend from License to Wed.
The only casting that doesn’t fit at all is Grace as 29-year-old virgin Jared. First off, it’s Topher Grace. Furthermore, his reasoning — his parents’ divorce made him hold out for the true love to give his first time to — is one of the movie’s weaker links. That said, Zackham does infuse his script with plenty of sharp commentary on the WASPy Connecticut community, especially Seyfried’s uptight parents Barry and Muffin, and their fear of having “beige grandchildren.” Several moments where these characters are caught in their out-and-out racism inspire a gleeful schadenfreude in viewers excited to see the uptight upper-class archetype get their comeuppance.
Unfortunately, these bright little bursts are exceptions in an otherwise pretty standard landscape. For the most part, the movie is very color-by-numbers, and there are no huge surprises. It’s up to you to decide if that unevenness spurs you on to see the movie, or if you’d rather rent How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. Despite its ridiculous premise, at least it breaks new ground in the genre.
The Big Wedding Is A Big Failure
By: Christopher Runyon
This review was originally published here on April 27th.
Some scripts can be saved by a good cast that delivers the material with as much chutzpah as possible. And then there are some that are simply unsalvageably dreadful. The Big Wedding is one of those scripts. Primarily based on a French comedy called Mon frère se Marie (which I haven’t seen), it’s safe to assume that its American counterpart bastardizes the original material thanks to the unnecessary additions of excessively broad and confused humor.
The film follows the various members of the Griffin family during the lead-up to a wedding between Alejandro (Ben Barnes), the Griffins’ adoptive son from Colombia, and Missy (Amanda Seyfried). I’d go into more detail, but to give a traditional plot synopsis would mean having to explain the billions of little subplots that each family member has, and that would be somehow even more boring than having to watch the actual movie. The main thing to keep in mind is that Alejandro’s biological mother and sister decide to stay with the Griffins for the weekend leading up to the wedding. The problem: his mother (who doesn’t speak a word of English, so you just know how much comedic gold they’re gonna mine from that particular detail) is devoutly religious, meaning she wouldn’t be accepting of Alejandro’s adoptive parents (Robert De Niro and Diane Keaton), who have been divorced for many years. This means that De Niro and Keaton have to pretend to be married for the three days Alejandro’s mother is staying, allowing for shenanigans of high-larious proportions to ensue.
This contrived set-up would be much more annoying if the film actually did anything with it, but with so many other dumb subplots going on and a running time of 89 minutes (including end credits), it’s relegated to being one cog in a machine made entirely out of dumb subplots, and I will never know if the film would be better or worse off with the focus on that one premise. To give you a good example of the rest of the material’s quality: Katherine Heigl’s character has recently learned that she can’t get pregnant. What would be the most forced, idiotic way to pay off this particular story thread? If the answer isn’t “having her just get pregnant anyway for absolutely no reason other than ‘because’,” your expectations are clearly too high.
Meanwhile, the humor is completely inconsistent. One would expect a film with this kind of premise and ensemble (which also includes Susan Sarandon, Topher Grace, and a sorely underused Robin Williams) to be more of a light, PG-13 romp for the older set, which is what 70% of the movie ostensibly is: Inoffensive innuendos, slapstick, and De Niro quips. Basically, if The Big Wedding’s trailer used “We Are Family” as the song choice without a hint of irony, I wouldn’t be surprised.*
But The Big Wedding has aspirations of being slightly more raunchy and edgy. Like the similarly bland Arthur Newman before it, the more adult humor comes out of nowhere and feels completely out of place with the rest of the material. The dirtiest joke in the entire movie involves Topher Grace getting a handjob during a dinner, which is lifted directly from Wedding Crashers. Y’know, because people liked that movie! And they liked Bridesmaids, so there has to be a puke scene too! That’s what the majority of the “edgier” jokes all amount to: Riffs on better movies (or even sitcoms) that it can’t quite imitate. This poor implementation of R-rated humor brings the unintended side-effect of the film having no definable audience. By trying to have it both ways and attempt to appeal to everyone, writer/director Justin Zackham (Also responsible for The Bucket List) ends up with a film that appeals to no one.
I’ll say this much about The Big Wedding: for the first two-thirds, it’s not the worst thing in the world. It’s still completely devoid of laughs and every character has the complexity of a plastic figurine you’d find on the top of a wedding cake, but it’s pleasant enough to watch this cast together that you don’t necessarily mind the movie either—save for a thin, uncomfortable undercurrent of racism and homophobia, but it wasn’t major enough for me to find offensive. Incredibly unnecessary, yes, but mostly inoffensive. Mostly.
And then the film’s final act kicks into high gear, which is when every subplot has to interconnect and weave their Amores through their Perros to pay off in the most absurd fashions imaginable. Suddenly, the film devolves itself from flawed yet mild blandness into a cacophony of forced slapstick, unbelievable character decisions, undeserved sentimentality, and a whole slew of new subplots and twists that pop completely out of nowhere all for the express purpose of tying every single thread into a neat little bow, regardless of whether any of it is earned—which it isn’t. To top it off, all of these disparate tones and plot-lines play out almost simultaneously, to the point that everything’s gone to complete chaos and this pleasant yet forgettable romp has transformed into something ugly and irritating.
The Big Wedding is mercifully short, and I’m pretty positive I’ll forget most of it in a couple of weeks. But I simply can’t forgive the film of one of its final exchanges, which draws a new line in absurdly corny hack-writing.
Diane Keaton: “You were right. There are different kinds of love.”
Robin Williams: “Which one are you feeling now?”
Keaton: “All of them.”
I know what kind of love I’m feeling at this moment. The kind of love reserved for that rare feeling when you just know that a movie will be burning in cinematic hell for such atrocious writing. And all the other stuff that came before, most likely.
*I just checked. Turns out the trailer uses The Romantics’ “That’s What I Like About You” as the song choice. Drat! I was this close!