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The Big Wedding

by Kilian Melloy
Friday Apr 26, 2013
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The cast of ’The Big Wedding’
The cast of ’The Big Wedding’  

Writer-director Justin Zackham’s American remake of "Mon frère se marie" sets the bar low at ankle level, then digs itself a cozy little trench in the mud and proceeds to wallow for 90 excruciating minutes.

The Americanized version of the film is called "The Big Wedding," and it stars Diane Keaton and Robert DeNiro as Don and Ellie, the long-divorced parents of a trio of high-powered brats. Don has been living with Ellie’s former best friend, Bebe (Susan Sarandon), for the last decade. Take a guess as to why, exactly, Don and Ellie’s marriage fell apart and then, with that in mind, ask yourself whether a set piece involving an ex-wife stumbling onto an impromptu scene of kitchen cunnilingus between her ex-husband and her ex-BFF is really all that funny.

Not that horndog Don seems to mind; embracing his ex, he makes a joke about how it’s whatever pill he’s taking for erectile dysfunction that’s put a pickle in his pocket, and not any special excitement at seeing Ellie once again. Ellie doesn’t mind; as we learn later on, she’s been exploring tantric sex.

The kids are just as bad. Lyla (Katherine Heigl) is a partner at a Chicago law firm; her marriage is a shambles, not because of an unfaithful spouse, but because of too many failed attempts to conceive a child via fertility treatments. The very sight of a room full of newborns at the hospital where she meets her brother Jared (Topher Grace), a doctor, is enough to lead to a fainting spell. A concussion ensues; cue the de rigeur vomiting scene at the subsequent fancy dinner party.

Jared’s problems are different from those of his cheating father, his tantric-orgasm seeking mother, or his infertile sister. In his case, the desire to wait for true love before he has sex means that he’s become a babe magnet at work. Nearing 30, he’s starting to wonder if he’ll ever surrender his virginity. (Don’t his predatory female colleagues wonder, too, whether he might simply be gay?)

The youngest is adopted son Alejandro (Ben Barnes) -- Al for short. Alejandro is the Harvard-educated groom set to wed his friend from childhood, Missy (Amanda Seyfried) over the obvious, if never stated, objections of his future mother-in-law, Muffin (Christine Ebersole). For a smart guy, Al is incredibly dumb: When he realizes that his biological mother, Madonna (Patricia Rae), a Catholic who lives in Colombia, is bound to be shocked that his adoptive parents are divorced, Al suggests that Don and Ellie pretend they are still married.

How this deception is supposed to work, given that all the other guests know better, is something to which Al gives no thought; nor does he foresee what Bebe’s response is going to be until she packs a bag and storms out. (She later appears, for no sensible reason, as the server at their country club dinner and, more logically, as the wedding’s caterer.)

The film hits all the beats of its genre, but hits them either way too hard or in an offbeat, unfunny way. Al’s mother shows up with his hot younger sister Nuria (Ana Ayora) in tow; Jared promptly forgets all about true love and lays plans to chuck his virginity for blazing lust instead, which is something he might have been better advised to do in his teen years (not that it matters; he, along with everyone else in the film, conducts himself in a stubbornly juvenile way). Ellie, of all people, intercedes to frustrate his intentions. "I can’t believe I’m being cock-blocked by my own mother," Jared moans. Okay, seriously: Yuck.

Even the swipes the film takes at Catholicism fall flat. Robin Williams co-stars as the local priest, Fr. Moinighan, with whom Don has been through Alcoholics Anonymous (three times, in fact). Fr. Moinighan embodies the very oldest tenets of his faith, and the film just can’t wait to get him out of his vestments and into a silly looking robe, thanks to one too many iterations of the old "falling into the lake" gag. That hoary chestnut, like the rest of the film’s slapstick, creaks with age and there’s no revitalizing energy to be found that might brighten and refresh it.

On the surface, "The Big Wedding" is a typical big-budget comedy with a cast of stars both major and minor. The production design boasts all the elements of an American dream that has retreated into fantasy, what with a gorgeous big lakeside house, the well-heeled, educated family that dwells there, and the event itself, a wedding ceremony with all the trimmings.

Underneath, however, this is a film about people who fling their principles aside at a whim and, impervious to shame or humiliation, set aside all manner of betrayal and transgression the moment a drink is poured or a band strikes up a danceable tune. The fact that his adoptive parents are divorced is the least of Alejandro’s worries; if he has anything to apologize to his biological mother about, it’s for having kept company for so long with this horde of numbskulls.

Funny movies with an "R" rating earn that scarlet letter through wit, grit, or satire. "The Big Wedding" wears its "R" like a warning: This flick is toxic sludge.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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