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The Big Wedding

April 11, 2014

The Big Wedding (2013)
Director: Justin Zackham
Actors: Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon

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Synopsis: Adopted son, Alejandro (Ben Barnes), of the well-to-do Griffin clan is due to marry his sweetheart, but when he learns his strict Catholic biological mother will be coming to the wedding, he asks his now-separated adoptive parents, Don (Robert De Niro) and Ellie (Diane Keaton), to fake still being together for the sake of the ceremony…

Review: Over the last half-dozen years, I’ve set myself the goal of committing my thoughts to paper for every single movie that passes before my eyes. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a rigorous critique, a tangential piece loosely inspired by the film, or simply an obligatory paragraph – I felt it would be a great practice to get into for my writing as a whole, but also fantastic discipline for my cinephilia – to be engaging with the art of rhetoric and the medium itself on a continual basis.

Never has that practice felt more laborious and obsolete, than after being privy to the 85 minutes of utter fluff they call The Big Wedding. It comes from that highly questionable subgenre of films I call ‘lifestyle porn’ (usually helmed by a Nora Ephron or Nancy Meyers). These movies are based round the notion that throw a starry ensemble cast together, put them in luxurious, ultra-bourgeois settings (somewhere like The Hamptons or a preppy suburb of Connecticut), give them a crowd-pleasing, ‘familiar’ screwball narrative, and Hollywood magic will be manifest. The problem with that recipe is in its smug, self-appointed sense of affluence and ‘fun’ – as the Oceans Eleven series pretty much proved, the sight of Hollywood stars enjoying themselves and clowning around, doesn’t necessarily a motion picture make. The only one that kind of got away with it was Santa Barbara farce It’s Complicated – the gold-dust Streep/Baldwin/Martin trio keeping the energy just about bubbling over its flaws…

 The Big Wedding lets us know what we’re in for, by nailing its cards to the table in a diabolical opening stretch. Robert De Niro’s voiceover warns us what’s to come with a lamer-than-lame pun about marriage (presumably the screenwriter got this from a cheapo Christmas Cracker), and the ‘humour’ begins with – wouldn’t you know it – Diane Keaton caught in an ‘awkward’ position when stumbling across ex-husband De Niro about to perform cunnilingus on his current squeeze, played by Susan Sarandon. The jolly scrapes don’t stop there though – characters are continually falling into water (a ‘scared of heights’ De Niro slips off a diving board, and the guests all jump into a lake after the main wedding ceremony has taken place). More pathetic than this though is the main narrative cog, which wants to propel separated pair De Niro and Keaton into a position of enforced coupledom during the wedding weekend. It seems a fair enough comic intention, but writer-director Justin Zackham has come up with the most ill-thought through and truly dumb conceit imaginable. Namely, he has created the character of an adopted son, Alejandro, who was sent by his poor mother in Colombia to be brought up by De Niro and Keaton (clearly the writer doesn’t know his viable adoptive countries at all, as long as they’re ‘Other’ than the US of course), but now that he’s getting married, this actually well-heeled, intelligent Colombian woman is shoe-horned in so that her unfathomably dogmatic Catholicism and her clichéd randy Latin daughter can rub up against the neurotic all-American family. If the whole set-up wasn’t so apologetically dire, you could call its politics offensive (also De Niro gets to sleep with both of his leading ladies in the space of a few hours, but it’s all laughed off as part of his charismatic, lothario ways). If you like train-wreck, ‘how on earth did that see the light of day’ Hollywood projects – then this is for you….(April 2014)
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