It would be difficult to claim "The Big Wedding" was a good movie, as it's so clearly not, but it is at least an interesting movie. This year's version of "Country Strong," another film that bewildered simply as a matter of doing business, a bad idea that somehow everyone fully committed to throughout, to the film's credit … and detriment. "The Big Wedding" is the rare example of a film that had to have been a tonal mystery to everyone involved for the entire process of scripting, shooting, and editing. The lingering issue? They never managed to crack the case.
"The Big Wedding" starts off wrong-footed from the get-go, murdering any potential momentum. A lady character is introduced, she has nausea and doesn't drink (could be pregnant, what!!??) then we get to hear about a 29-year-old virgin, a storyline implausible enough to be ripped from a sketch comedy exercise where the people on stage have to work with a word the audience has thrown out. "Virgin!" Umm, okay, I guess we'll muddle through this, but c'mon, who are we kidding here? It's impossible to do this with any element of comedic timing because there's no comedy left to wring out of the lifeless trope. But I've already fast-forwarded too far into the piece, because the actual very first scene is a voiceover from Robert DeNiro. It's gonna be a bumpy night.
"The Big Wedding" is incredibly raunchy. I deliberately avoid the word "bawdy" because that description evokes the connotation that there's something adult or artsy happening here, "Moulin Rouge" style, but this is not at all the case. Ten F-Bombs (I counted! Because what else was I supposed to be doing?) are sprinkled throughout the film, including amazing sentences constructed completely around curse words in rapid succession, the sort of dialogue you don't see much outside of the long-haul truck industry. This wouldn't be so out of place if this wasn't a movie bathed in the luminous bright lights and sentimentality of wedding tradition. Where the expectation is something along the lines of "Rachel Getting Married" or "Four Weddings and Funeral," the actuality is more akin to "American Pie" meets "As Good as it Gets" mixed with a dash of "Just Go with It". If those descriptors seem disparate, or off-kilter, that's precisely what "The Big Wedding" is, a bit like walking in on your parents, wearing swim caps, rocking out to this anthem in their bedroom:
Now then, it's not as though agism is the watchword of the day, or that older folks shouldn't have active and vibrant sex lives, it's more that I'm not sure why any of this is happening at all - themes and scenes are thrown around willy nilly, as if "The Big Wedding" can fluidly switch between genres without a structural collapse, rampant sexuality painted against a backdrop of familial love and understanding, personal growth attained on the back of jokes about acts of oral pleasure. Confounding, this is "The Big Wedding". It is a shocker that it was even made, and a bigger shock that anyone involved could have thought "nailed it!" Something was nailed, but "it" was awkwardness and confusion, not narrative.
As to that narrative, for the morbidly curious, here you are: The adopted son of divorced couple Don and Ellie, Alejandro (Ben Barnes), is to be married over the weekend. Divorcee Don's new squeeze is Bebe, though Ellie and Bebe clearly have a previous fondness for each other. Lyla (Katherine Heigl) and Jared (Topher Grace) are Don and Ellie's other children, also scheduled to attend the wedding. Father Moinighan (Robin Williams) is there to provide counsel to the new couple. Alejandro's fiancee is named Missy (Amanda Seyfried) and her parents are super racist, they don't want her to marry Alejandro because he is not lily white. This, amazingly, is not the problem that needs to be dealt with.
The real problem is Alejandro's biological mother, Madonna (Patricia Rae) is coming into town to see her only son get married, only, as a devout Catholic, she frowns greatly upon divorce. Thus, long-divorced couple Don and Ellie must pretend they are married, for the sake of Alejandro, to the great chagrin of current beau Bebe, all while Lyla and Jared deal with various issues ranging from breakups to trying to hook up with Alejandro's biological sister, Nuria (Ana Ayora) though of course technically speaking Jared would then be pursuing the sister of his brother. Ahem. Weird subplots aside, the "let's pretend to be something so as not to offend someone" plot-line was first discovered by the Incas, and you've probably also seen it in works ranging from Shakespeare to Archie Comics. No, it's not the most innovative plot device, though everything they put around the device is innovative, but only in that it's impossible to figure out what is happening, as if you're watching the manic fight scene from "Crazy, Stupid, Love" for an entire movie.
Dings firmly in mind, silly cursing juxtaposed against "I love you speeches" and Topher Grace pining for carnal knowledge, what made the film interesting, and perhaps, gulp, worth a watch (if you're the intrepid sort of cinematic fan who occasionally doses him or herself with pain)?
The list starts and almost ends with Susan Sarandon, she's the primary reason any of this works on some level. Conversely, Diane Keaton's character, Ellie, is really just her Diane Keaton'ing all over the place. Same goes for Robert DeNiro, who stars as Robert DeNiro, though everyone onscreen calls him Don for some odd reason. Admittedly, Susan Sarandon may be pulling off the same thing, dipping into her inherent mutable loveliness, but without the believability Sarandon brings to the wobbly material this would have been a laugh out loud endeavor, only for all the wrong reasons. Sarandon is asked to play a husband-stealer, a stepmom, a best friend, an embattled and bitter girlfriend waiting for her man to put a ring on it, a caterer, and finally, mercifully, a forgiving angel. This, obviously, should be impossible, but like a jungle cat moonwalking through a fiery hoop, she manages to pull it off.
Any rational person would have bet against efficacy, given those long odds, but that's why we play the games, eh? It should also be ceded that all of the actors involved tried extremely hard, Katherine Heigl (as Lyla) is likable for the first time in years, Amanda Seyfried continues her dogged pursuit for the title of America's Sweetheart, and Robin Williams tones it down enough to be palatable in his limited role as Father Moinighan, though by my count this is the 77th time he's appeared as the wacky, yet gentle, preacher type. Hell, even Topher Grace's nod toward the impossible virgin stereotype is filled with something approximating heart, though it's mostly the type of heart you see filtered through a seven-layer cornball bean dip. Still, everyone was up for it, wackadoo lines were delivered with precision, and many of the scenes feature something memorable (if not exactly coherent).
What's it all add up to? What's the final verdict on a film that's too busy twitching in the corner for any real level of introspection? Well, If you placed a rabid raccoon into a sleeping cat and then hit the fire alarm, you'd capture the vibe of "The Big Wedding". It's a film without any true concept of what it is, or what it was trying to accomplish.
Grade: 5.5 / 10
Laremy wrote the book on film criticism and took an awful long time thinking up that cat/raccoon analogy.