The Big Wedding answers the question, assuming anyone ever asked it, of what would happen if a soap opera were to be filtered through a screwball comedy. Here is a film in which every conceivable dramatic relationship cliché – divorce, infidelity, pregnancy, prejudice, long-buried secrets, miserable children – is not only forced into being funny but are also collectively the foundation of a plot so contrived, so strained, so completely insincere that turning it into the pilot of a second-rate sitcom might have been an improvement. Because there are no well developed characters in this film, one can only separate the merely annoying ones from those that are flat-out insufferable. In the former category, we have people who are no more or less than what the screenplay requires them to be. In the latter category, we have grating, broadly drawn stereotypes.
The film is a remake of a 2006 French film called Mon Frère Se Marie, which literally translates as My Brother is Getting Married. To the best of my knowledge, it never received a U.S. theatrical release. It ultimately doesn’t matter, since the only film The Big Wedding reminded me of, in terms of its basic premise, was The Birdcage – which, incidentally, also has French origins. It tells the story of the Griffins, a secular family in which the parents, Don (Robert De Niro) and Ellie (Diane Keaton), have already gotten divorced. Their adopted Colombian son, Alejandro (Ben Barnes), is on the verge of getting married to the love of his life, Missy (Amanda Seyfried), when he’s hit with two setbacks. One is relatively minor; in order to ensure that his service is performed by family friend Father Monighan (Robin Williams), the nonreligious Alejandro must promise to raise his children in the Catholic tradition.
The other setback is not only major but will also serve as a setup for a number of manufactured comedic scenarios. Against everyone’s expectations, Alejandro’s biological mother, the Spanish-speaking Madonna (Patricia Rae), will be attending the wedding, which will be held at Don’s beautiful lakeside house. A devout Catholic, she believes that divorce is a sin. In order for Alejandro and Missy to receive her blessing, Don and Ellie will have to pretend to be married for as long as she will be staying. It also means that Don’s longtime girlfriend, a caterer named Bebe (Susan Sarandon) specializing in organic vegetarian foods, will have to temporarily leave the house. It should be noted that, many years ago, Don cheated on Ellie with Bebe, who was at one time Ellie’s best friend. Strange, how cordial Ellie and Bebe are to each other throughout the entire film.
We meet the rest of the Griffin family. Don and Ellie have two biological children. One is Jared (Topher Grace), a doctor and a twenty-nine-year-old virgin, the latter a self-imposed decision as he wanted to wait for the right woman to enter his life. Temptation comes in the form of Madonna’s daughter, Nuria (Ana Ayora), who, for reasons no better than getting the audience to laugh, will immediately want to go skinny dipping with Jared. The other child is Lyla (Katherine Heigl), a seething hotbed of anger and resentment. Apart from the fact that she has just broken up with her husband over issues with conceiving, she remains hostile to her father, whom she hasn’t forgiven for cheating on her mother all those years ago. She also hates that she sees something of himself in her; if there’s one person she doesn’t want to end up like, it’s her father.
Missy’s family isn’t as prominently featured, but we learn enough about her parents to understand why she’s desperate to get away from them. Outwardly, her mother, seriously named Muffin (Christine Ebersole), is a genteel Southern belle; on the inside, she’s a racist horrified at the prospect of having brown-skinned grandchildren. She has other issues as well, but I won’t get into those. Her father, Barry (David Rasche), also tries to project hospitality, and yet within he’s a hopelessly desperate man, in large part because he’s being investigated for financial fraud. Why this piece of information is treated as a throwaway gag rather than a serious problem is anyone’s guess. He too has other issues I won’t get into. Let it suffice to say that, like virtually all soap operas, there are several sudden revelations and turns of events.
With everything that’s going on, can the Griffins maintain the façade they’ve created for Madonna? Because she’s the reason everyone is being so deceptive, it’s amazing to me that she isn’t given more screen time. In fact, there comes a point at which she disappears from the plot, only to be reintroduced in the middle of the obligatory wedding scene, which will, needless to say, not go according to plan. Things never go according to plan in movies like this, which is to say that I expected it. What I didn’t expect was for the filmmakers to aim so low. Coming from me, that’s really saying something; I’m typically the first to forgive romantic comedies for their obvious shortcomings. The Big Wedding is an unfunny, mechanical miscalculation – a film that assembles a respectable cast and then forces everyone to squander their talents.
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