Destination Wedding aims to be the misanthrope's rom-com, but despite the charm of Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves, it's just plain unlikable.
Romantic comedies have made a big comeback in 2018. Thanks to the likes of Crazy Rich Asians, Set it Up, To All the Boys I've Loved Before and Love, Simon, there are plenty of new entries in the genre. For their part, Netflix is leading the charge, releasing many of the 2018 rom-coms on their streaming service. Given how many new romantic comedies have released this year between theatrical and online premieres, there's a movie in the genre for everyone. Now, the latest rom-com release of the year is Destination Wedding, and features a leading duo who are atypical of the genre; two people who are not only unlucky in love but are closed off to it entirely. Destination Wedding aims to be the misanthrope's rom-com, but despite the charm of Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves, it's just plain unlikable.
Destination Wedding follows Lindsay (Ryder) and Frank (Reeves), who meet on their way to the destination wedding of someone they both know. For Frank, it's his half-brother with whom he has a strained relationship - if you could call it a relationship at all. Frank was convinced to attend by their mother, who argued it was objectively wrong for him to miss his brother's wedding. In Lindsay's case, the groom is her former fiancé who left her five weeks before their own planned wedding, six years prior to the destination wedding. Though Lindsay sued him after he jilted her, she's at the wedding to find some kind of closure to their relationship.
As the surly brother and the jilted ex-fiancée, Lindsay and Frank wind up thrown together a great deal throughout the weekend as they're stuck in the small town of Paso Robles, California for the wedding. Although the two dislike each other almost immediately, they quickly form a bond out of necessity. They're clearly the odd ones out of the wedding party, which forces them to spend time together if they don't want to be completely alone for the rehearsal dinner, all the planned activities leading up to the ceremony and then the wedding itself. Slowly, they start to warm up to each other, but with Frank remaining cynical about love and relationships and Lindsay still hung up on her ex, it remains to be seen if they'll be able to start something new.
Written and directed by Victor Levin (Mad About You, Survivor's Remorse), Destination Wedding plays out like a two-person production meant to be performed on stage. The script is made up entirely of exchanges between Reeves' Frank and Ryder's Lindsay in various locations over the course of the single weekend during which Destination Wedding is set. From their first interaction in the airport terminal where they argue about whether Frank tried to step in front of Lindsay to get on the plane before her, through the rest of the weekend, the movie only showcases their conversations. Sometimes they exchange quips, volleying barbs back and forth like a tennis match, while at other times one of the two will deliver a lengthy monologue about the plight of the human race or some other superficially philosophical topic.
In theory, the premise of focusing in on two misanthropes as they work through their issues with each other - especially as played by Ryder and Reeves - sounds compelling. And while there are moments of true emotion and humor in Levin's script, Destination Wedding works too hard to make Frank and Lindsay unlikable and is too successful in this endeavor. When constructing a film around characters who are meant to be unlikable, there must be a balance wherein the audience still roots for them, otherwise viewers won't become emotionally invested. Arguably, getting the audience invested in and rooting for the main characters is even more important in romantic comedies since the entire movie hinges on the ending (whether it's a happily ever after or not). If the viewer doesn't care enough about the main characters of a rom-com, if they aren't invested in the characters because those characters are too unlikable, then there's nothing compelling them to continue watching (other than, perhaps, the simple desire to finish something they started).
Destination Wedding attempts to walk that line between pushing the unlikability of its main characters while still keeping viewers invested in their atypical love story. To this end, Destination Wedding is aided by drawing on the classic romance storyline of hate-to-love, wherein two characters hate each other at first, but grow to love each other. Because the movie utilizes this well-worn plot structure, the viewer knows what Destination Wedding is building to - a happily ever after - so it becomes more about the journey these two characters take. Since Levin's script only features dialogue between Frank and Lindsay, it allows for their relationship to remain the focus throughout the entire hour and a half runtime. However, Levin's script often fails to make the characters compelling and likable enough for viewers to remain invested. There are offensive jokes and insufferable comments included seemingly as if to say, "Look, aren't these two awful?" And the answer is yes, they are, often to the point that Frank and Lindsay come off as unrealistic, in addition to being unlikable.
For their parts, Reeves and Ryder give endearing performances. The pair are strong enough and have enough chemistry to almost carry off Frank and Lindsay's more disagreeable moments. Certainly, after having worked together two times prior to Destination Wedding - on Bram Stoker's Dracula and A Scanner Darkly - Ryder and Reeves have an easy rapport. There are brief moments when their charm shines, which helps break through some of the cynicism surrounding Frank and Lindsay. However, even Reeves and Ryder aren't able to propel Destination Wedding to the heights needed to make a mark on the rom-com genre.
Instead, though Destination Wedding had the potential to be the cynic's or the misanthrope's romantic comedy, its characters are too unpleasant for viewers to become too invested in their story or to get too much enjoyment from the film. Certainly, there are moments of heart and humor in the movie, but they're largely overshadowed by the obnoxiousness of Lindsay and Frank. As such, Destination Wedding will likely disappoint viewers who hoped for a rom-com with a charmingly unlikable leading duo. Romantic comedies may be making a comeback in 2018, but not every entry in the genre is bound to be beloved or successful. Unfortunately, while Destination Wedding aimed to take an edgy approach to romance, the movie's unlikable characters suck all the joy and enjoyment out of this rom-com.
Destination Wedding is now playing in U.S. theaters. It runs 90 minutes and is rated R for language throughout and sexual content.
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- Destination Wedding (2018) release date: Aug 31, 2018