Travis Leamons // Film Critic
AFTER THE WEDDING
Do enough channel hopping and you’ve probably seen AT&T promote its company with the tagline, “Just OK is not OK.” Like you wouldn’t want an OK surgeon before going under the knife or broker a deal with a foreign company with an OK translator.
AFTER THE WEDDING has a similar feel: good acting languished in a just OK drama. The fact the film is adapted from an Oscar-nominated foreign film makes it even worse.
I’ll save you from me comparing Susanne Bier’s 2006 original and Bart Freundlich’s American remake because, while I know of its existence, I haven’t seen it. All I know is Freundlich’s adaptation gender swaps the three primary characters. We have Isabel (Michelle Williams), who manages an orphanage in Kolkata, India. Theresa Young (Julianne Moore) is the head of a majorly successful media company in New York and married to her artist husband Oscar (Billy Crudup). They have twin boys, and Oscar has a daughter, Grace (Abby Quinn). Theresa is preparing to sell her ownership stake in the company and is donating a nice sum to various charities, and Isabel’s orphanage is being considered. Before Isabel can receive any money, she must first travel to New York and meet with Theresa. The fact the meeting happens on the eve of Grace’s wedding is not the least bit odd. Admittedly, Theresa runs a media company and can surely plan a wedding for her lovely daughter and handsome beau. Multitasking and all that.
Then, things get complicated.
I’m trying my best to be as vague as possible because AFTER THE WEDDING relies heavy on its revelations. One revelation leads to more revelations and raised voices and arguments and consolations. There’s hardly any time for the characters to ruminate on something disclosed. Time is key to the narrative, but not allowing breadth in the scenes undercuts the drama. We are cutting away from the wrenching moments, much like a risqué dalliance in an old black and white film fading to black and picking up the next day. This sort of repression stifles AFTER THE WEDDING. The characters are left to hold in their pain until another pin-prick revelation causes them to burst.
And what about the characters? I couldn’t empathize with anyone. Even Isabel. When she’s first introduced in the Indian orphanage, acting as a motherly figure to a young boy, her appearance looks plain yet refined. In New York, she is plain and refined. So are Theresa and Oscar. The biggest trick may be in thinking Isabel is going to a bourgeoisie mingling with the ultra-rich. Not at all. She gave up security years prior, leaving a comfortable life in New York after a discomforting situation. But the majority of the movie is enmeshed with security. Business offices, Isabel’s Manhattan penthouse suite – arranged by Theresa, and the palatial country estate of Theresa and Oscar. Opulence, the hidden-in-plain-sight character in a sad movie populated by well off white people.
AFTER THE WEDDING is a most frustrating drama. Reliance on contrivances with a script that plays up bombshells on a married couple and an outsider, and neglects themes that are largely overlooked. Williams, Moore, and Crudup are great performers, and each has a moment of resentment and anguish that, when separated from the film as a whole, allows their talents to shine bright. Those moments and some sharp observational humor – mostly in respect to success, or lack thereof – add life to scenes where coldness remains. Sadly, Freundlich is so focused on Isabel, Theresa, and Oscar and their dynamic that he fails to go deep on the themes of expectations placed on women or being a parent. That’s a shame, too. If he had, a warmer reception would be appropriate for AFTER THE WEDDING.
AFTER THE WEDDING opens August 23.