The title of The Big Wedding refers to the impending marriage between Alejandro (Ben Barnes), a well-to-do Harvard graduate, and Missy (Amanda Seyfried), who is his longtime friend and a young woman who comes from a wealthy, white collar background. Alejandro realizes that, in order to secure the blessing of his biological mother (Patricia Rae) – a traditional Catholic from Colombia who is literally named Madonna – he will have to fib a little about the lifestyle of his adopted parents.
Problem is, Alejandro’s adopted dad Donald (Robert De Niro) and mom Ellie (Diane Keaton) got divorced over a decade ago, and Don has since lived with his girlfriend – and Ellie’s former best friend – Bebe (Susan Sarandon). So, in an effort to keep everything running smoothly, Bebe willingly volunteers to remove herself from the picture and let Don and Ellie pretend they’re still married; though, it’s easier said than done, over the the course of a weekend that brings to light the little secrets of everyone in the family.
Big Wedding is a (very) loose remake of the 2006 French-language film Mon frère se marie, and similar to the previous American takes on European dark comedy and satirical fare (see: Dinner for Schmucks), the final result is an odd duck of a movie. Whereas its predecessor is foremost a biting farce about social class, Big Wedding blends elements of screwball comedy and schmaltzy domestic drama together, with an unusually adult perspective on issues of sex, relationships and physical attraction. Surprisingly, these ingredients combine to form an occasionally charming and, overall, strangely watchable variation on your average American comedy about a dysfunctional wedding.
Much of the credit for that success (no shock) belongs to the three Oscar-winners in the cast: De Niro, Keaton and Sarandon, whose characters are the heart and soul of the film; not to mention, their story is the unifying thread in the screenplay written by Justin Zackham, who also directed. Indeed, much like Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson brought emotional authenticity to Zackham’s Bucket List script, the seasoned acting vets in Big Wedding make everything seem more convincing – be it the still-intact friendship between Ellie and Bebe or those two women’s shared affections for the incorrigible horndog and ex-alcoholic artist Donald (a role that De Niro, thankfully, commits to, rather than phoning it in) – and thus, manage to keep this peculiar ship afloat.
That’s all the more important, because those additional subplots and characters in Big Wedding are, unfortunately, kind of dull and ineffectual by comparison. Indeed, Barnes (Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian) and Seyfried (Les Misérables) both have a pleasant screen presence, and each one gets a moment to shine; however, in the grand scheme of things, the pair doesn’t have much to do beyond moving the proceedings forward and serving as the butt of jokes about their differences in race, religious heritage, and social standing. By the time their storyline reaches its conclusion, the emotional payoff is almost an afterthought.
Similarly, Topher Grace (Spider-Man 3) and Katherine Heigl (The Ugly Truth) are typecast as Don and Ellie’s adult children: a 29-year old (virgin) doctor and lawyer with relationship problems, respectively. Grace, as ever, is the hapless but likable guy, who’s really there to provide more comedy, while he chases after Alejandro’s free-spirited biological sister Nuria (Ana Ayora). Heigl’s storyline, by comparison, is about emotional catharsis and serves as a thematic foil to the other story threads, but the actress (sorry to say) isn’t able to make the material as touching as it’s meant to be, despite the stronger efforts of those around her.
Zackham’s script, as indicated above, is mostly a comedy of manners, but there are traces of satire and farce scattered throughout the film. However, much of that is constrained to the supporting characters, which includes Missy’s snooty parents Barry (David Rasche) and Muffin (Christine Ebersole), as well as the well-humored Father Moinighan, who is portrayed by an uncharacteristically buttoned-down Robin Williams. There’s not much satirical bite to any of their scenes, but the moments with Williams are worth a few chuckles; meanwhile, Rasche and Ebersole are not onscreen long enough to leave a memorable impression, good or bad.
Sometimes, Zackham is his own worst enemy, when he punctuates the tender and heartfelt plot beats with broad humor, be it slapstick by a lake or a raunchy gag at the dinner table. Nonetheless, his screenplay offers a refreshingly mature take on physical desire, with the inclusion of frank dialogue and characters having attitudes about sex that feel more realistic than in recent rom-coms that’ve attempted to provide audiences with a contemporary perspective on that subject (ex. No Strings Attached). Zackham also deserves credit for keeping the editing and camerawork nice and clean (saving for a couple of 360-degree pan shots), so the filmmaking doesn’t distract from the actor-driven comedy onscreen.
Big Wedding is a fluffy, yet memorable, romantic dramedy (though, it’s heavier on the comedy) about love in all its various forms. The way the film weaves together the raunchier material and gooey sentiment will leave (some? many?) moviegoers either annoyed or not sure what to make of it all.
However, to paraphrase one of the characters in the film, at least this is one wedding movie that you won’t be forgetting anytime soon; if that sounds good to you, then check it out.
The Big Wedding is now in U.S. theaters. It is 90 minutes long and Rated R for language, sexual content and brief nudity.