Reviews

'The Big Wedding' Makes Divorce Look Good

The Big Wedding has its moments, but it's short on ideas about, say, parents and children, sibling relationships or, oh, I don't know, weddings.


The Big Wedding

Director: Justin Zackham
Cast: Robert DeNiro, Diane Keaton, Katherine Heigl, Susan Sarandon, Topher Grace, Ben Barnes, Amanda Seyfried, Robin Williams,
Rated: R
Studio: Lionsgate
Year: 2013
US date: 2013-04-26 (General release)
UK date: 2013-05-29 (General release)
Website
Trailer

You're only a few minutes into The Big Wedding before Don (Robert De Niro) greets his estranged daughter Lyla (Katherine Heigl) in a country club restaurant, determined to extract a hug even as she pushes him off, insisting, "I don't feel well." A moment later, she's puked all over his jacket and you know why.

This isn't because she's already explained that she's left her boyfriend, Andrew (Kyle Bornheimer), or because she's confided in her brother Jared (Topher Grace) or mother Ellie (Diane Keaton) or even has a moment in the bathroom where she discovers her condition alone, via a pregnancy test. No. It's because you know why every young woman pukes in a romantic comedy, especially when she's got an estranged father's shoulder in front of her.

That The Big Wedding is predictable is, well, predictable. It's one of those crazy-family-get-togethers adapted from a French original (in this case, a movie called Mon frère se marie), where everyone learns in the most sensational and loudest way possible about everyone else's secret pasts and stupid choices. The usual frenzy of the titular occasion is exacerbated by the fact that the groom is Don and Ellie's Colombian-born adopted son, Alejandro (Ben Barnes), who has neglected to tell his ardently Catholic mother Madonna (Patricia Rae) that his parents have been divorced for a decade. She and his sexually adventurous sister Nuria (Ana Aroya) are coming to Connecticut for the wedding and so, he's got a problem (how Nuria has hidden from her other how adventurous she is remains a mystery). Believing that Madonna is incapable of accepting that his parents are imperfect, he convinces everyone -- including Father Moinighan (Robin Williams playing yet another version of the character he always plays) -- to pretend Ellie and Don are still married, just for the weekend.

This premise -- the usual sort where one honest word would undo all of it -- makes for elaborate discomfort, in particular with regard to Alejandro's earnestly uninteresting fiancée Missy (Amanda Seyfried), her patently racist, foolish, pastels-wearing parents Muffin (Christine Ebersole) and Barry (David Rasche), and oh yes, the woman who has functioned as his mother throughout his life, also known as Don's live-in lover Bebe (Susan Sarandon). Once Ellie's best friend, she's apparently been incredibly patient with the excruciatingly selfish Don and devoted to his and Ellie's kids. Ellie's absence is briefly noted here by way of a line that, in another movie would have constituted a brief aside, but here becomes a running joke. This line, informing the guests at a rehearsal dinner that Ellie's adventures include traveling to an exotic elsewhere to learn how to have nine-hour orgasms, here generates cartoony eye-pops and faux flusteredness, corny grimaces and astonished gasps.

That this bit comes up more than once underlines a couple of things. One, the movie is short on ideas about, say, parents and children, sibling relationships, or, oh, I don't know, weddings. And two, to make up for this rather egregious lack, The Big Wedding relies instead on business, most often, the kind of R-rated business that marketers tend to draw as the primary lesson of Judd Apatow's success. That's not to say that other lessons are not available as well, and certainly worthy debates have emerged as to how R-rated comedies have at least made visible broad cultural anxieties over "language" or gross-out sex imagery, over what counts as funny, or whether bodies in various states of very visible disarray are fundamentally transgressive or deeply conservative. It is to say that this movie asks none of those questions… or any others that might be remotely interesting.

Instead, The Big Wedding -- even its title is pathetically unimaginative -- offers up the genre's usual succession of aimless episodes, wherein individuals pair off or gather in noisy groups in order to make faces, offend or betray one another, have sex or otherwise expose themselves in completely banal ways. That they might do this through while using words like "cunninlingus" and "cock-blocked" or giving hand jobs under the tablecloth doesn't make these little bits of plot or the seeming revelations they yield any less stale.

The main elements in this particular staleness tend to philandering jokes and lesbian jokes (because what coud be more startling or titillating than roving husbands with heir female neighbors than roving wives, with one another?), and also race stereotypes. While sex and marriage and even sexuality are commonplace in the R-rated comedy (those that aspire to Apatowian formula and those that don't even pretend to have aspirations of any kind), race identifications and race anxieties remains trickier to negotiate. When pert little Missy accuses Muffy and Barry of not wanting beige grandbabies, their vaguely horrified expressions serve as the awkward punchline: they will deserve all the ugly embarrassment and comeuppance the film can muster. Other instances are less overtly comic, but just as reductive: Ellie speaks loudly to Madonna because she doesn't speak English, or Nuria offers herself up to Jared as a delectable brown object (that is, the oposite of her chaste mother) or, one more time, Madonna says that watching the white people act out their fantasies and terrors is "like watching Telemundo." Like Muffy and Barry's horrified faces, these are cheap punchlines, not based on character or even any particular situation: they might have happened in any similarly lazy movie. All of which is to say: The Big Wedding is small.

1


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Prof. Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.

Music

The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Music

Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.

Music

Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.

Television

HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.

Music

Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.

Music

Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.

Books

'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.

Film

'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.

Music

Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.

Music

DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.

Music

JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.

Music

​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.

Music

Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times

Music

Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.

Music

How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.

Books

Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.

Music

Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.