Comedy, Parody and a Jeopardy Game
Reviewed By: Editorial Board
Avraham Azrieli writes books and screenplays. His website is: www.AzrieliBooks.com
The Big Wedding is part comedy, part parody and part jeopardy game of who is who, who is with whom, and who the hell could have so much fun when your character’s backstory foretells a tragedy. Yet, The Big Wedding somehow manages to deliver big laughs, deep sighs, and even a few wet tears. And it’s no wonder, as the film is basically a ruckus and joyful get-together of mostly A-list stars on a quickie break from serious roles.
The patriarch of the groom’s family, Don, is played by Robert De Niro, who recaps his Fokker Family role, but without the paranoid spy gear. Here, De Niro is an aging sculptor who, while not shown actually sculpting anything, sports the expected long locks, facial hair and behavioral oddities, perhaps resulting from the stress of keeping all the character’s fictional balls in the air: He is (1) the father of a young physician, Jared (Topher Grace), who still lives at home and is abstinent from sex (unlike his father), (2) the father of an estranged daughter, Lyla (Katherine Heigl), who loves/hates him, (3) the adoptive father of Alejandro (Ben Barnes), who is about to marry the daughter of the deeply disliked couple next door, (4) the ex-husband of his children’s mother, Ellie (Diane Keaton), a woman he cheated on with her best friend, yet he still loves her (can you blame him?), (5) the lover, in a long cohabitating relationship, of another beautiful woman, Bebe (Susan Sarandon) who is Don’s ex-wife’s ex-best-friend, and who helped him finish raising the children and complete a lot of house renovations, (6) a recovering alcoholic who still drinks, (7) the host of the wedding, including Alejandro’s biological mother, Madonna (Patricia Rae), a devout Catholic whose abhorrence of divorce forces De Niro to also pretend that he is (8) still married to his ex-wife. If for nothing else, it’s worthwhile to watch The Big Wedding just for the opportunity to see De Niro juggle all these conflicting roles without rolling his eyes (on camera) even once.
Diane Keaton as Ellie plays the betrayed wife, who had left Don after he cheated on her with her best friend, Bebe. Ellie has been away from her children, from the house of her dreams, and from the husband she loved. Now she’s back for the wedding, and upon her arrival, she surreptitiously watches her husband fooling around with his live-in lover (her ex-best friend) in the kitchen. But despite all that potentially enraging past events, throughout the movie Diane Keaton seems happy to the point of constant giggling. If there is any bitterness or resentment, we never see it. She is warm to her ex-husband and to her ex-best friend and tries to make everybody as giddily happy as she manages to be. Perhaps Keaton had so much fun making this movie with such a terrific group of people that she couldn’t bother with her character’s painful past or otherwise muster the appearance of hostility towards those who had basically destroyed her perfect life.
The deepest feelings expressed in this film belong to Lyla (Katherine Heigl), the estranged daughter who had taken her mother’s side and distanced herself from her father (and is now experiencing a breakup in her own marriage). Heigl’s emotional portrayal of this complex character reliably conveys the complex array of feelings a daughter experiences towards such complex parents. Yet she manages to go along with the over-the-top spirit of this movie, with dramatic fainting and projectile vomiting. As always, Heigl is a class act.
Susan Sarandon (as Bebe) similarly delivers an expert performance in a complicated and contradictory role that pulls in different directions. The real kicker, though, is Robin Williams, a funnyman whose brilliant potential seems to be constrained here by scripted dialogue and tight directing, barely allowing him to show his incredible talent in a role of Father Moinighan, an alcoholic, racist, and cynical priest. One can only imagine what Williams would have done with this role if he were only allowed to go wild.
Alejandro, played by Ben Barnes, is the adopted son turned Harvard graduate and multi-linguist, who is fluent in Spanish, English, Chinese and much more. The young Barnes manages to deliver an excellent portrayal of a character who could have appeared silly. He is charming, emotional, and funny. His fiancé, Missy (Amanda Seyfried) also has to balance conflicting pressures, especially in contending with her parents, Muffin (Christine Ebersole) and Barry (David Rasche), who are rich/poor, snobby/pathetic, and righteous/sex sinners. Seyfried capably goes along with the insanity underlying this story.
In summary, The Big Wedding is a farce of modern life with every known complication thrown in for good measure. Moviegoers should expect a riotous yet improbably story delivered by a group of incredibly good actors having fun on the screen. In fact, they’re having so much fun that it’s hard to suspend disbelief about the huge bags of skeletons that each one of them is supposed to be schlepping around. But in the end, it doesn’t really matter as The Big Wedding is meant to be as good as fresh popcorn—light and airy, fun and crunchy, and not intended for the haughty, discriminating connoisseur.