Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
In the movies, a couple locked in the deep throes of an argument usually indicates the moment the romance dissolves. Films like SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE, BLUE VALENTINE and REVOLUTIONARY ROAD have perfectly showcased the antithesis of marital bliss. However, for the couple at the center of writer-director Victor Levin’s DESTINATION WEDDING, bickering where their relationship begins. And guess what? It works brilliantly. Witty, wonderful and wildly audacious, this uproarious romcom for cynics is a pure delight.
There’s a lid for every pot, as acerbic Frank (Keanu Reeves) and sardonic Lindsay (Winona Ryder) are about to discover. They’re two misanthropes who really deserve each other. He likes to holler at the TV and her biggest relationship is with a houseplant. Even their meet-cute at the airport goes hilariously awry when a perceived slight occurs. They learn quickly enough that they’re both traveling to the same destination wedding in Paso Robles (a town whose pronunciation is debatable, right up there with Los Feliz). Their connections deepen further: the groom is Frank’s estranged half-brother and Lindsay’s ex-fiancée. He’s showing up out of familial duty and she’s seeking closure. From the plane seats next to each other, to the adjoining hotel rooms, it becomes obvious these two are going to be stuck together for the rest of the weekend.
Reeves and Ryder’s epic airport argument in the cold open is like when Christopher McQuarrie opened MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION on Tom Cruise dangling from a plane – as if to tell the audience that even bigger, more spectacular stunts are in store. This is Levin’s way of doing the same, but with Reeves and Ryder lobbing snappy verbal darts at each other before they jump on that airplane. It shares a similar vibe with Richard Linklater’s BEFORE series, where the leads trade deep existentialist observations and bond over life’s eccentricities. They even do a walk and talk through the countryside a la Celeste and Jessie in BEFORE MIDNIGHT. Levin also gives BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE) a run for its money with its alternative title: DESTINATION WEDDING OR A NARCISST CAN’T DIE BECAUSE THEN THE WORLD WOULD END. Well-played.
To help set the scene, extras are used as set dressing only. They share the frame with the main characters, but don’t have speaking lines, or interrupt the insular world of our surly antagonists. Occasionally they act as the unknowing recipients of Frank and Lindsay’s hilarious potshots. Long takes play out with the camera remaining static. There’s also not a lot of quick cuts, allowing the audience to really take in the welcoming atmosphere juxtaposed with these unwelcoming guests. Title cards appear, demarcating the wedding weekend schedule and feelings about the planned activities. The score is upbeat, sounding like Randy Newman meets a French Cafe in California wine country. All of these techniques really make Levin’s sharp dialogue genuinely pop. Plus, the film houses the best dig on South Coast Plaza probably ever.
Reeves and Ryder are transcendent together, and Levin’s film further solidifies their chemistry. We see them doing things we haven’t before in DRACULA and A SCANNER DARKLY – I mean, unless those two dramas also had rapid fire repartee and I somehow glossed over it. It’s not the destination that’s important here. It’s the journey the audience takes with these two loveable grumps.
DESTINATION WEDDING opens on August 31 in select theaters. It will be available VOD on September 7.