There are a handful of really good movies that have a wedding at the epicenter of their stories. The plots focus on everything from the complexity of merging two people and their families, the sentimentality of such an occasion, the purging of familial secrets or even the absurdity of the ritual itself. The Big Wedding tries to encompass all of these elements, cramming too many eccentric characters and sub-plots ranging from completely superfluous to melodramatic, and the result is talented cast mired down in a convoluted mess.
Robert De Niro plays Don, the patriarch of the groom’s family. De Niro should stick to intelligent comedic roles like his recent turn in Silver Linings Playbook and stay away from slapstick films like the tragically unfunny Meet the Parents trilogy. Don lives with Bebe (Susan Sarandon) with whom he had an affair while he was still married to Ellie (Diane Keaton). It turns out Bebe was also Ellie’s best friend. Despite being divorced, not having seen each other in a decade, and Bebe being a husband stealer, Ellie has managed to maintain friendly relationships with both Don and Bebe.
The free-spirited Ellie returns to the family home for the wedding of her and Don’s adopted son Alejandro (Ben Barnes), and his childhood friend turned true love Missy (Amanda Seyfried). Seyfried should have learned to stay away from playing a bride-to-be after her role in the dismal Mamma Mia!. It’s hard to determine if the Abba soundtrack was the saving grace or death knell for that film. The Big Wedding is reminiscent of Mamma Mia in that both movies are too absurd to be considered traditional comedies but fall flat as farces.
Alejandro and his siblings Jared (Topher Grace) and Lyla (Katherine Heigl) are all high achievers, but both Jared and Lyla’s personal lives are in varying degrees of turmoil. Lyla also has daddy issues because of Don’s philandering ways. Heigl hasn’t had much luck on the big screen with the exception of another wedding-themed film, 27 Dresses. Unlike the people pleasing, semi-professional bridesmaid and incurable romantic Heigl played in her one romantic comedy triumph, as Lyla, she comes across as harsh and unlikable. Grace hasn’t managed to expand his acting range much since leaving That ‘70s Show.
Alejandro’s biological mother Madonna (Patricia Rae), and sister Nuria (Anya Ayora), are also attending the wedding, along with Missy’s WASP parents played by Christine Ebersole and David Rasche. Robin Williams rounds out the cast as a Catholic priest. His character is far more understated than the slightly sadistic, over-the-top reverend he played in License to Wed.
With a cast of this size, everybody has to have something to do which diverts the viewers’ attention away from the bride and groom. There’s very little intimacy between Alejandro and Missy. Without those feelings present, it’s difficult to become emotionally invested or even interested in the characters as a couple. There’s an overall lack of familiarity or connection between all of the players. Missy exhibits no tolerance for her own parents. She speaks of them with disdain and openly insults them. If it’s supposed to be funny, it isn’t. A sense of history and closeness that is irrefutable in movies like the original Father of the Bride or Steel Magnolias.
While some movies revolving around weddings languish in sentimentality, it’s possible to delve into darker, less saccharine family dynamics. Most families are not nauseatingly picture perfect, and weddings can be a catalyst for anger, resentment and regret. The Big Wedding introduces several situations including infertility, infidelity and the complexities of marital discord that allow for deeper emotional exploration but wind up being glossed over. Two films that approach weddings from a more melancholy direction are Margot at the Wedding and Rachel Getting Married.
Another popular approach used by filmmakers when it comes to wedding films is subterfuge. Sometimes is works such is the case with My Best Friend’s Wedding, and sometimes it doesn’t, illustrated perfectly in The Wedding Date. The Big Wedding contains a storyline that is unmistakably similar to the plot of The Birdcage. The idea of misrepresenting the status of the marriage or the spouse is understandable in the context of that particular film. In this movie, the primary characters pride themselves on being so unconventional, open, politically correct, liberal and unapologetic, the twist is unbelievably contradictory. It’s like a piece of parsley on a plate, pointless.
Even though The Big Wedding pummels the audience with an array of hurdles that not only the bride and groom but those around them must overcome, the film still ends with every loose end tied into a neat little bow. This just further contributes to the schizophrenic nature of the film. It’s completely implausible to think years of issues can be resolved over the course of two days. If writer/director Justin Zackham wanted picture perfect, he shouldn’t have introduced so many dysfunctional elements. Sometimes not giving viewers a happily ever after works. But, by the end of this cinematic mess, nobody watching will probably care one way or the other.
The Special Features consists of one featurette entitled ‘Coordinating The Big Wedding’.