At some weddings, more than a handful of guests forcibly feign joy at their friend or family member’s matrimony, aware that any outpouring of adverse sentiment – however justifiable – would paint them as a blasphemously selfish anomaly within an aura of exultation. Those with a grudge to bear assume a mask to layer over any underlying misgivings or tensions, thus avoiding any unwelcome disputes. Movie weddings, however, rarely go off without a hitch. There are always secrets to be told, never untold. It’s only fitting, then, that those with the most skeletons in The Big Wedding are central to the wedding aisle, and whose voices carry to the farthest pew.
Being that this star-studded remake of the 2006 French film Mon frère se marie has added an adjective to its original title of The Wedding, it’s evident that director Justin Zackham believes the idiom that bigger is indeed better. In this tale, almost everyone has an outlandish revelation primed to bolster their already cartoonish personas; each shocker is reeled off across an exhaustive critical confrontation in the third act, a churlish game of one-upmanship that overrides the central appeal of the film’s conceit.
Given the least attention in this slinging match are soon-to-be-married Alejandro (Ben Barnes) and Missy (Amanda Seyfried), deemed uninteresting presumably because of their refusal to succumb to the dysfunction plaguing their entire family. The most negative traits are instead specially reserved for Alejandro’s adoptive parents, Don (Robert De Niro) and Ellie Griffin (Diane Keaton), who must each look past their divorce and pretend to still be married in the days leading up to the wedding. This charade will placate the disapproving Catholic eyes of Alejandro’s biological mother Madonna (Patricia Rae), while concurrently alienating Don’s current girlfriend Bebe (Susan Sarandon).
De Niro’s Don is a vulgar, reprehensible excuse for a fatherly role model whose worst traits seem to have carried over into his son Jared (Topher Grace), a sex-mad juvenile who pines after Alejandro’s Colombian sister Nuria with disturbingly perverse persistence. Zackham takes a brief, insufficient ponder at the horrifying reality that certain parents’ genes – Don’s boorishness, namely – may carry over into their offspring, as with Jared; it’s a fear that grips Don and Ellie’s daughter Lyla, played by Katherine Heigl – a notable exception in that her vulnerability and distance allow her to come off relatively unscathed from the car crash.
Secrets are not inherently shocking when laid on this thick and subsequently dismissed as inconsequential roadblocks on an inevitably rosy narrative. Neither is dysfunction inherently hilarious; especially when these characters are much less bouncing off each other by way of hearty wisecracks than vehemently detesting each other for our ostensible pleasure. Where is the incentive to laugh at the sight of Robert De Niro being punched in the nose by all the women in his life, not once but thrice? The refusal to examine closely some of the themes The Big Wedding skirts with sees the broad strokes uniformly fall flat.
It’s difficult to assess what sort of audience The Big Wedding is attempting to play to. Too family-oriented for randy teens, yet too raunchy for family viewing, it occupies a strange middle ground decidedly uncommitted to appeal to anyone at all. If the tawdry humour – De Niro fellating Sarandon in the opening minutes – doesn’t offend, some of the film’s race and gender misconceptions almost certainly will. After spotting son Jared being pleasured by Nuria under the dinner table, a shocked Ellie whisks the young Colombian woman off to the bathroom for a lesson in how women are expected to behave, as if white females have the sole privilege to this knowledge. Nuria exists to satiate Jared’s expectancy of South American women as fetishized erotic objects, and while the film doesn’t outright condone his borderline rapist exploits, it goes some way to encouraging both his and Don’s ignorant behaviour with a lavishing of antihero affection.
One is almost relieved at the infrequent sight of Robin Williams’ Father Monighan who, much like us, can’t quite believe that this many perversely imbecilic people are gathered in the same place at the same time. When you’re solaced to welcome a perceivably sane Robin Williams into the room, something has gone terribly wrong.
The Big Wedding opens in the UK tomorrow.
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