Friday, April 26, 2013

The Big Wedding

Review by Pamela Zoslov

Everything about THE BIG WEDDING, a comedy written and directed by Justin Zackham, reeks of Hollywood cynicism, from the big-name casting (Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon) to the title “People like big, they like weddings. (Waves cigar.) Call it 'Da Big Wedding.'”

Loosely adapted from the 2006 Swiss film Mon frère se marie, the movie has a familiar La Cage aux Folles premise: a family enacts a social charade to deceive prospective in-laws. In the original Swiss movie, a divorced couple and their alienated children fake familial happiness to deceive the mother of their Vietnamese foster son. The Hollywood version has DeNiro and Keaton as Don and Ellie, a long-divorced couple, pretend they're still married for the sake of the devoutly Catholic birth mother (Patricia Rae) of their Colombian-born adopted son Alejandro (played, via politically incorrect Central Casting, by British actor Ben Barnes). Apart from the chauvinism of portraying a Colombian woman as a rosary-fondling rustic named Madonna, the film sins against comedy by failing to develop its farcical theme. The direction is slack and listless: a climactic scene under the wedding reception tent, in which the characters hurl around vicious accusations and scandalous revelations, is so limp it feels like rehearsal outtakes.

The script by Zackham, the writer known for THE BUCKET LIST, expends considerable screen time setting up the family members' stories. De Niro, a successful sculptor and ex-alcoholic, is shacking up in the couple's huge house with sensible, sexy caterer Bebe (Sarandon), who angrily takes off in her red convertible when the fake-marriage plan is announced. Don and Ellie's daughter Lyla, a lawyer, has split from her husband and – oh so tragic! – can't have children. Her brother, Jared (Topher Grace), is a Harvard-educated doctor and 29-year-old virgin. Alejandro is engaged to Missy (saucer-eyed ubiquity Amanda Seyfried), daughter of cartoonish rich bigots Barry and Muffin (David Rasche and Christine Ebersole). Robin Williams shows up as a reformed-drunk priest who counsels the engaged couple against the premarital sex they've already had. Colombian mom Madonna speaks no English but wisely understands all. Taking a plane for the first time in her life, birth mom Madonna brings along on the visit her sexy daughter Nuria (Ana Aroya), who sets her eye on Doctor Virgin.

The pretend marriage provides the opportunity for Don and Ellie to revisit happier times -- including an earth-shaking “boink” for old times' sake – and Lyla to reconnect with her despised dad, Jared the opportunity to lose his cherry in an quasi-incestuous coupling, and a whole lot of other uninteresting things. We can understand why Lyla might dislike Don, because De Niro here is in his disgusting-old-coot mode, with uncombed long gray hair, and the script furnishes him with foul-mouthed dialogue about cunnilingus and Viagra and lines like “I'll tweeze his balls off!” Why two attractive women are fighting over this guy is a perplexing mystery, alongside how a sculptor of Rodin-manqué figures suitable for garden décor got rich enough to build that huge mansion and send his kid to Harvard.

Strangely, the movie is at its best in more serious moments, as when Robin Williams' Father Monighan counsels Ellie, “Just because you're divorced doesn't mean you're legally required to hate each other,” or when Don reveals his emotional vulnerability in a quiet conversation with his daughter. But as a comedy, it's remarkably substandard. Farce requires a deft directorial touch that Zackham seems to lack, and that's something all the marquee names in Hollywood can't fix. 1.5 out of 4 stars.

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