Gaze upon the names of actors featured in this movie. “My, what a guest list!” you expound loudly, scaring your cat and sending her scurrying in fear from any movie in the future that involves Robert DeNiro, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon or Robin Williams. The problem with this roster is that liking these actors is actually not a good reason to slap down dinero for De Niro et al. If you have affection for the likes of DeNiro, Keaton and Sarandon, this will be a painful experience. But, at the same time, some people like pain, (how else to explain my curiosity with watching any Katherine Heigl movie?) Perhaps, then, the subtitle for this movie should be, The Big Wedding: Sadists Only!
In the vein of other ensemble comedies that celebrate the aspects of the ensemble but not the comedy, The Big Wedding is about a Connecticut family attempting to compose themselves for a wedding. DeNiro plays Don, a sleazy sculptor living in Connecticut with his girlfriend Bebe (Sarandon), whom he cheated on with and abandoned now ex-wife Ellie (Keaton) for. Don and Ellie have three children, Jared (Topher Grace), Lyla (Katherine Heigl), and an adopted son from Colombia named Alejandro (Ben Barnes). Alejandro is set to marry Missy (Amanda Seyfried), with his biological mother (Patricia Rae) and sister (Ana Ayora) in attendance.
This expectation of a special, motherly guest forces Don and Ellie to pretend for the weekend that they are still married, to the dejected unhappiness of Bebe (who is catering the wedding with her company Bebe’s Yum Yums, hide the lemons). Nuttiness, wackiness and zero laughs ensue as the two attempt to respect cultural differences. At the same time, their children have subplots of their own, to be discussed below.
As the lead act of this freak show, this is another statement from the hardworking DeNiro that he doesn’t care if you like his wackier endeavors or not. He is fine becoming this movie’s instantrimhot.com punchline to many scenes, always getting in the final word during moments that don’t have a good joke to stand on. Here, as the leading male figure in the film caught between his ex-wife, his girlfriend and his three children, DeNiro is a crass “douchebag” who keeps screwing everything up. In such a position, this character’s charisma to the audience relies first and foremost on the fact that he is being played by DeNiro. Were it anybody else, he would be even more unlikable than he already is.
Overall, with maybe the exception of Seyfried, The Big Wedding is a cast made up of either walking classics like DeNiro, Sarandon, Keaton or Williams or those who have failed to leave a significant impact as distinct Hollywood personalities, like Heigl and Grace. For Williams, playing the movie’s priest, this is like Steve Carell’s appearance in the not-funny Hope Springs, in which the actors play relatively serious characters with only brief supporting screen time. As for Heigl and Grace, the two are working with some of the year’s worst subplots; she has a pregnancy story that is obvious from her first shot (introduced with the word “maternity ward” over her head) and he is a wholly unsympathetic, almost 30-year-old doctor, who still hasn’t had sex because he’s waiting for love. And for some reason, he prominently wears an unfunny t-shirt that says, “Owls are Assholes.”
The couple who are actually getting married in the movie, Barnes and Seyfried, have a few tinges of chemistry, but they aren’t given anything to work with. Instead they are serviceable as the sanest people of this bunch. The presence of Rae in this comedy makes for many moments that already kill the weak pacing, in which all the jokes involve the awkwardness of language barriers. Her character is best a symbol of the contrivances that are rampant in The Big Wedding.
For a movie with its overall color palette based on the ironic purity of its title event, The Big Wedding has a very bland look to it. The crispness of digital cinematography highlights the blandness constantly found in the movie’s vanilla look, in which costume design didn’t seem to be coordinated with interior production design; whites on whites on whites, etc. When DeNiro dons a hot pink blazer sometime into the movie, it doesn’t just stand out for its attempted comedic relevancy, but because it’s the only bit of color this movie has. Also, the last shot of this movie is very strange, showing the water of the pond next to their house. I assume that’s where the bodies are buried?
Like G.I. Joe: Retaliation before it, this movie makes its biggest bid for wackiness awareness through its dialogue, which includes DeNiro saying the made-up phrase “poon job” before audience members have settled down. Throughout its script Big Wedding uses crass on top of crass words and statements that bait dissenters to over-analyze its nuttiness. The problem here is that such language isn’t used with wit,and instead comes off like a desperate bid to achieve dimwitted maturity, á la Adam Sandler’s last R-rated comedy That’s My Boy. As non-PC as these characters may be, having one character bark to another “Go fuck a goat” still doesn’t seem “natural.”
The Big Wedding is a comedy written more by a casting director than an actual writer or director. The R-rated humor of The Big Wedding relies greatly on what its audience thinks of its casting, with script jokes coming from the shock of hearing DeNiro say this wacky thing or Heigl doing this gross thing, etc. These are not so much performances as embodiments, with this barely watchable script boosted slightly by at least being performed by actors who still have charisma to cling to, no matter how many The Big Wedding-esque disasters they’ve previously found themselves in.
The jokes in Big Wedding are not so much set up as they are hardly ever spruced up. Writer/director Justin Zackham’s script is a-OK with predictable punch lines and contrived setups. When DeNiro tries to stand up on a diving board, he plays that out over two scenes with the expected conclusion. When biological mother Rae appears, the entire movie focuses around this one, forced sense of anxiety involving approval across cultures and whether DeNiro and his rambunctious American family can keep themselves together before insulting someone.
Even the film’s family portrait is stuck as a lazy representation of a new type of family, in which one of the children is adopted, a surrogate mother is found in the husband’s mistress/girlfriend who is his ex-wife’s former best friend and everyone is open with their sexual business. Thus, the family is established in the beginning as already offbeat and the script doesn’t evolve them beyond that point. We simply watch these odd characters have chemistry between each other that feels awkward for us, but normal for them. That’s this movie’s sense of comedy. All that being said, this movie features one of those weddings where no extras attending the title event look like they belong there.
Managing a lot of characters and holding up their arcs is a lot of work for a storyteller and Zackham is clearly not interested in the task. Watching such a movie only leaves one with more anticipation for the new episodes of Arrested Development, a story about an already dysfunctional family with cleverness in their unity. In comparison to that show or many other weddings or ensemble comedies before it, Big Wedding is an insulting farce on the hard work required to make even a decent comedy.
After all, what’s the golden movie-going rule? The more people laughing on a poster, the less funny it is probably going to be? That must be it. I didn’t write that rule, other shitty movies like this one did.