Film Review: The Big Wedding

Comedy about a wedding where the groom's divorced parents must pretend to still be married. The production should have been annulled.

Despite a jaw-dropping all-star cast that's the cinematic equivalent of the New York Yankees' Murderers' Row, The Big Wedding is the cinematic equivalent of the 1962 New York Mets. The team went 40-120 that year, in case you're wondering.

What on Earth happened? Movies about crazy family weddings are a reliable comedy subgenre, from classics like the original Father of the Bride (1950) to populist hits like My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002). Who can't relate? And it'd take all day to count the Academy Award nominations collected by this movie's stars. Yet right from its blatant attempts at modern raunchy humor (Katherine Heigl creepily brags about brother Topher Grace's penis size; Diane Keaton walks in on ex-husband Robert De Niro about to give oral sex to longtime girlfriend Susan Sarandon on a kitchen table) to its regressive, 1950s-style set-up (the groom's divorced parents have to pretend they're still married! And how gosh-darned wacky is that?!), this delayed release of a 2011 production fails across the board from farce to comedy-of-manners.

In Connecticut WASP country, Alejandro Griffin (Ben Barnes), the adopted son of the divorced Ellie (Keaton) and Don (De Niro), is about to marry Missy (Amanda Seyfried). The other Griffin children—lawyer Lyla (Heigl) and doctor Jared (Grace)—are thrilled for their brother. Yet Missy's parents, Muffin and Barry (Christine Ebersole and David Rasche), somehow, inexplicably, can't understand that the posh, Harvard-educated Alejandro, whom Missy has known since they were kids, isn't some homeboy from the inner city. Huh? If such obliviousness were some clumsy attempt at satire, writer-director Justin Zackham only succeeds in making Missy's parents seem like cartoon characters in an otherwise naturalistic movie.

Fortunately, that's not the comic complication, though the real one's no better: Alejandro's birth mother (Patricia Rae) and sister (Ana Ayora) are flying up from Colombia for the wedding, and are staunch Catholics. And, oh my, Alejandro hasn't told them Ellie and Don are divorced, and so for unconvincing reasons his adoptive parents agree to pretend to still be married. What century is this? And it's not just that contrived conceit that makes us ask. In a hospital scene, we have a nurse informing a man in a waiting room that he's just become a father. Really? Was that a flashback to decades ago before fathers were part of the birthing room? But wait! There's more! A woman faints in that same scene! Honest to God. A fainting woman. What, did she get the vapors? One half expects a scene at the house where a lady sees a mouse, screams and jumps on a chair. Or how about: The big boss is coming for dinner and the wife has burned the roast!

Robin Williams, funny as always, plays a comical, vaguely racist priest in the film, which began as a comedy-drama called Gently Down the Stream that the trade press described as being about "a woman who confronts her ex-husband and his new girlfriend." Then, somewhere along the line Zackham, who wrote The Bucket List, adapted the 2006 French wedding comedy Mon frère se marie. Zackham previously directed a 2001 college comedy, Going Greek. Let's hope it's at least another 12 years before he directs again.