Monday, May 20, 2013

'The Big Wedding' (2013) directed by Justin Zackham


I wasn't exactly looking forward to seeing The Big Wedding.  It currently sits at a near rock-bottom 8% on the Rotten Tomatometer, with critics variously describing it as "bland", "vulgar", "witless", "tired" and "dated".  This, coupled with the fact that the screening I was booked to attend meant I had to be up 9am on Sunday morning, a time when I'd really rather be eating toast and reading the paper.  Then there's my long-held dislike of wedding films.  The same tired old jokes, the boring caricatures, the plot locked on rails and the cute kids/dogs - it makes me so tired.  What happens in The Big Wedding is such a tired old jumble of cliches and crappy sitcom contrivances that it's honestly not worth outlining.  There's a wedding and some things go wrong, you know the deal.  

But annoyingly, The Big Wedding doesn't even do me the favour of being completely terrible.  Don't read this any kind of recommendation, this is a bad film, but it's bad in that numbs you into bovine docility rather into arousing anger.  It achieves this primarily through the star-studded cast.  Robert De Niro, Susan Sarandon, Robin Williams and Diane Keaton provide heavyweight star quality, and bringing up the rear are capable actors Amanda Seyfried, Topher Grace, Katherine Heigl and Ben Barnes.  

Everything forgiven, his soul white as snow. 
This is a comforting blanket of stardom you can draw up around yourself as you watch this, each of the heavyweights bringing with them a hard-earned cinematic gravitas.  Whether or not De Niro is actually doing anything interesting in a scene, you trace the craggy lines of his face with your eyes, trying to pick out what remains of the electric Johnny Boy from Mean Streets.  I was particularly interested in Diane Keaton, as I'd coincidentally watched Woody Allen's Manhattan the night before the screening, and wanted to see if she was still as funny (answer: difficult to tell).  Keeping all these classics of cinema in mind subtly helps the film, but then very quickly you realise you're not judging it on its own merits.

Aside from its cast, the film doesn't actually have many merits.  Honestly, it really has no real reason to exist at all.  It's visually deadly dull, has nothing interesting to say and it vanishes from the mind almost as soon as it's over.  Clearly Lionsgate realised the same thing; this is a film has in the can for a few years now, sitting on a shelf somewhere awaiting a release onto an apathetic public.  

He was in the public dock, confessing everything, implicating everybody.
If it was just 'dull' that'd be one thing, but there are some increasingly problematic elements lying at the films core, like the a shitty smelling whiff of privilege that permeates the thing. The film revels in a celebration and validation of an oppressively white, liberal bourgeois life, a fantasy that's which is shackled to a pick n mix bag of racism, sexism, classism and homophobia.  

The crux of much of the drama is the arrival of the groom's Columbian mother and sister to the wedding and the contortions that the Americans must go through to present an upstanding appearance to them.  This reduces the two Columbian characters to two polar stereotypes: the hyper-religious rural prude and the hyper-sexed bimbo.  Nestled up alongside this is the way the film looks down upon the lower-class struggling nouveau rich family of the bride, who are consistently mocked for their lack of class and taste, something which bizarrely ends up entangled with the lesbianism of the bride's mother, which is disquietingly reduced to the status of a "fetish".

He was walking down the white-tiled corridor, with a feeling of walking in sunlight, and an armed guard at his back.
Ordinarily I'd be hopping mad about all this stuff, but the film did such an effective job of anaesthetising me that the all I could muster is a vague unease.  In the end, the film ends up being an advertisement for a guilt-free, consequence-free consumerism: an existence comprised of hardwood floors, country mansions, gas guzzling SUVs, sun-dappled private lakes, meaningless representative art and a somnolent, facile magazine beauty.  

It's telling that Zackham's direction here is practically invisible, with damn near every scene being shot, reverse, shot dialogue, culminating in a wide shot of the two characters in frame at once.  These are punctuated with established shots of swans floating about aimlessly, waiters laying tables in slow motion or just dreamy, soft-focus, autumnal still footage of the family mansion reflected in the sun-dappled pond.  This is the cinema of sedation; the staff in Cineworld may as well have crumbled up diazepam into the popcorn.

The longhoped-for bullet was entering his brain.
Is achieving this blissful, almost meditative state worthy of any praise?  There must be people who are absolutely desperate for escapism, who're hungering for 90 minutes of their life to be filled with vapid and consequence-free nothingness, who chortle with pleasure at the sight of Robin Williams, dressed as a priest, falling into a lake.  It's difficult to deny that this film does everything that this hypothetical cinema consumer could want, and in delivering a tasteless, nutrition-free slurry to the audience it's undeniably a success.

So I recommend this film in much the same way as I'd recommend a really talented lobotomist.  It professionally achieves its goal with commendably little fuss.  But when the goal is to reduce you to a numbly drooling human beanbag, the efficiency with which it does so is somewhat beside the point.

**/*****

'The Big Wedding' is on general release from May 29th.

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1 Responses to “'The Big Wedding' (2013) directed by Justin Zackham”

Resonant Brain said...
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